The other day I went to Santa Monica, to the beach, in the Ocean Park neighborhood where California artists congregated in the 1960s and 1970s.
It’s bright and hazy there, and the sky is usually cloudless, so you get vast areas of light blue and brown. Like this:
As soon as I got there I thought about Richard Diebenkorn. It’s an obvious association – Diebenkorn lived in Ocean Park from the late 1960s to the late 1980s, and his most famous series of paintings is the “Ocean Park” series. But if you like Deibenkorn – and he’s one of my favorites – you can’t help comparing his paintings to the Santa Monica coast.
Here are a few:
The paintings don’t look like the beach or the neighborhood, obviously; they’re abstract. But they feel like them. Partly it’s the sense of faded color and light. Noting the color and light is just about the most obvious thing you can say about Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park paintings. It doesn’t make it any less accurate, though.
Diebenkorn was part of the Abstract Expressionist movement in the 1950s, like everybody else. Then he was part of the early Bay Area Figurativists who moved away from abstraction and back toward representation. It was after he moved to Southern California in the mid-1960s that he switched back to abstraction, where he remained for the next few decades.
You can still sense, though, the landscape in his abstract paintings. They were one small step away from his representational works, like this one:
Blur those blocks a little more and square everything off a little, and you’ve got abstraction in the style of the “Ocean Park” paintings.
Santa Monica – and Ocean Park – were different places back in the 1970s. Ocean Park was much more eclectic and downscale. Just south was “Dogtown,” home of dryland surfing, eventually called “skateboarding.” But the light and the color were the same.