Collector’s Choice: Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn review – gorgeous, serious, hard-won work of a lifetime

Royal Academy, London
A beautifully arranged overview of Richard Diebenkorn’s work, from blazing California abstracts to figuration and back again, dazzles and delights

A Day at the Race, 1953 by Richard Diebenkorn. Photograph: Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh. Patrons Art Fund © 2015 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Ocean Park on a hot California morning, the sun already beating down, sprinklers playing across fresh lawns, white buildings rising above parched boulevards that stretch away to the cool waters of Santa Monica bay. I’ve never seen it. Yet it has entered my senses forever because of Richard Diebenkorn.

The abstract paintings of this 20th-century master used to be everywhere, in the form of posters. Luminous overlays of soft, bleached colours balanced on underlying grids that conjured the built-up land against the fathomless Pacific, his Ocean Park paintings were so popular in the 1990s they attracted snobbery.


Ocean Park #27, 1970. Photograph: Brooklyn Museum © 2015 the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Abstract art for people who don’t like abstract art, was a common jibe; too easy on the eye, too neat and tidy, was another. When an Ocean Park poster appeared in one of the houses in the Channel 4 soap Brookside, I remember hearing his work compared to downmarket decor.

Perhaps this is one reason why Diebenkorn (1922-93) has been stinted in Britain. It has been so long since the last show – at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1991 – that a generation may never have seen his work. Not the least joy of the Royal Academy’s exhibition is the revelation of scale: the Ocean Park paintings may be amazingly big – nine or 10 square metres – or surprisingly small. Some are painted on cigar box lids.

But more remarkable for British viewers must be the chance to see Diebenkorn’s art evolving over a whole lifetime, from Albuquerque, New Mexico where he studied, to Urbana, Illinois where he taught, Berkeley, California where he lived until 1966, and then Santa Monica and the hundreds of works in the Ocean Parkseries.



Berkeley #57, 1955. Photograph: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © 2015 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

The early abstracts are dense, rich and beautiful – colour and form fitting ruggedly together like outlandish rockeries. Invoking the hot light and open atmosphere of Berkeley in particular, and the wild, red stoniness of Albuquerque, so familiar now from Breaking Bad, they seem to be all about how the eye gets into the terrain, how it sees its way around tall trees, avenues, parks, mountain ranges, buildings and sky. It is no surprise that Diebenkorn was a lifelong student of Cézanne.

Sometimes the early works appear to pivot around a particular form – something like a handprint, a sign or an arrow. These remain mysterious, balancing the arrangements of colour around them. It’s as if something figurative had cropped up in a landscape seen from within, but also from high above; a human detail in the wide south-western landscapes the painter saw from the air while flying back and forth in the 50s between California and New Mexico.

Just as Diebenkorn was finding fame with these intricate yet craggy paintings that hold their marvellous colours – cobalt, forest green, flamingo pink – like the evening sky in the branches of a tree, he suddenly changed tune. Like his near contemporary Philip Guston, he gave up abstraction and turned to the figurative.

Cityscape #1, 1963, with its ‘strong hints of Edward Hopper’. Photograph: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art © 2015 the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

This show is perfectly arranged so that you can see this coming almost from the start because the first gallery has sightlines into the second. A doorway frames a terrific painting of a long California street, heavily shadowed by houses in the heat, that spools away into the wild blue yonder. It still has a planar aspect – and some of the real buildings were apparently eliminated to get that patchwork of lawn and field from the early abstracts – but now there are strong hints of Edward Hopper.

A portrait of a pair of scissors, heavy and old yet still full of iron purpose; a man sitting shirtless and pensive in the dusk; the parched sidewalks of Berkeley – Diebenkorn pays open homage not just to Hopper and Cézanne but now Matisse. He paints his wife, his neighbourhood, the humble objects of his house and studio with a tough, terse brush but a seductive love of the subjects as well as the paint itself.


Scissors, 1959.
Scissors, 1959. Photograph: The Grant Family Collection © 2015 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

The burning blue of a Bay Area sky held in balance with the softer greens and blues of the land and sea below are pinned together with the succinct black drawing, so delicate and yet structural, that you see throughout his career. It keeps a rigour to these paintings that might so easily spill over into swoony light and heat. But just as Diebenkorn was becoming the best known of the Bay Area figurative artists, he did the opposite of Guston, turning once more to abstraction.

On a trip to Russia, Diebenkorn had seen Matisse’s great and strange French Window at Collioure, with its haunting planes of darkness and light, and the memory stayed with him. There is a genetic link from the Matisse to everything you see in the last rooms of show: these rectilinear paintings, so gorgeous and yet serious, so hard-won, showing what he called the ‘tension beneath the calm’.

Of course the Ocean Park paintings have beauty and balance as their uppermost characteristics. The California blues are all there – cobalt, aqua, sky, cerulean, the faded jade and turquoise of boatyards, beaches and outdoor pools. And the architectural structure below is so elegant in its measured thinking, in its geometry and even its joinery.


Ocean Park #79, 1975.
‘Tension beneath the calm’: Ocean Park #79, 1975. Photograph: Philadelphia Museum of Art © 2015 The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

But are they expressive of whole landscapes, could they be evocations of someone’s sprinklered garden with its sparkling pool? How does the atmosphere enter in? The paintings are stranger than expected, and this paradise is not without shadows – sometimes a grey pall, or a funereal black border edging into the frame.

In fact the Ocean Park series that has given so many people such pleasure arrives out of hesitation, correction, uncertainty, further attempts, frequent cancellations. How can one tell? Diebenkorn leaves the workings on show. The veils of colour that settle on the painting like a misty haar lie over many trials and second thoughts. The paintings look light, bright, uplifting, slim; but this only comes after long and patient thinking.

This is what connects late with early; all of these paintings are bent on seeing and depicting the same thing – cities and landscapes – in new ways. The elements may be the same, the architecture of lines and planes, the suave black drawing, the patches, clusters and veils of atmospheric colour. But the sense of endeavour, of tension, scrutiny and indecision changes every time and makes each painting vital and restless for all its composure. Even at the end, Diebenkorn is still trying to work out another way to give us the light and space of California.



Collector’s Choice: Chris Gwaltney



“Like a pianist who knows their repertoire so well they let their fingers do the playing, Gwaltney’s mark making is so casually done that it appears arbitrary. However, it is anything but inconsequential and is filled with meaning. In Tied to Memory, for example, the figure bisecting the horizon line seems to be moving off away from the viewer into the landscape.”
Bolton Colburn
Former Director Laguna Art Museum
Independent Curator





Gwaltney’s paintings are a reflection of his life and his place in it. His focus here is his family and the sunlit open sky along the beautiful coastline of Laguna Beach. The paintings are introspective, as he embraces a time of reflection and solitude.



About his Work:

Chris Gwaltney says: “The painting is a problem to be solved. It’s a puzzle, an equation that’s looking for a solution. I’m drawn to art that allows me to see elements of that argument. The ruins of original thoughts still visible in lines or shapes in the finished painting engage me. Corrections, erasures, scratchouts, over-paint and redraws are evidence of an active mind at work. The painting becomes a testament to time well spent. The emotional juice comes as much from the marks on the canvas as it does from the subject matter. The viewer is aware of the artist standing in front of the canvas.”

“I work in “series”, “series’s”?? Ok then, themes. I start with many marks and smears and drips, usually black or gray. A figure or 5 will suggest itself/ themselves and I will begin giving it/them some personality and attitude. Although the paintings are personal to me I want an ambiguity, a lack of specificity to each figure. Looking for a more iconic image through gesture and silhouette than eyelashes and facial expression. I then start writing phrases and passages from poems that excite me at the time. And then? …. I just keep setting up color relationships that are either benign or aggressive until I like it. Usually I will redraw and scratch out if I feel things are getting too precious or final. Leaving evidence of my arguments on the canvas are important and the artists I admire the most do that as well, such as Diebenkorn, Joan Mitchell and Cy Twombly as well as the sculpture of Nathan Olivera, Stephen de Staebler and Manuel Neri.”





Chris Gwaltney was born in Van Nuys, California. He sketched and drew from an early age and after an injury that left him on crutches for a year and a half, at the insistence of an artist friend, he started painting.

He attended California State University at Fullerton where he received Degrees in Bachelors of Arts in 1984 and then Masters of Fine Arts in 1986. He was approached by gallerist Diane Nelson with the offer of a solo show while hanging his Graduate Exhibition.



Over the next 29 years Gwaltney has been a feature artist with numerous galleries: Diane Nelson 1986-1991, Peter Blake Gallery 1993-2011, Robert Green Gallery 1997-2005, Sue Greenwood Gallery 2011-2013, Tria Gallery, Chelsea, NY (2010-2014)

Currently Gwaltney shows with Seager/Gray Gallery in Mill Valley, CA (2011-present) Julie Nester Gallery in Park City, Utah, (2008-present) and recently with Cadogan Contemporary in Kensington, London, UK.



Gwaltney’s influences hail strongly from the Bay Area Figurative school and include such favorites as Nathan Olivera, Manuel Neri, Joan Brown, de Stabler and Joan Mitchell. In terms of mark making and palette, he looks to Deibenkorn, Jean Michel Basquiat, Twombly, de Kooning and Linda Stojak.

For Gwaltney, gestures and their implied emotions are more important than pure representation and finish. Gwaltney has used his entire family as source material; from the growth of his children, the resiliency and strength of his wife to the passing of both his father and his father-in-law. He feels these relationships are the most honest way to express layered emotion.


Gwaltney’s process is one of construction and then deconstruction, “I’m a better editor than I am an inventor. I’ll paint in many figures and let them fight it out.” He allows for the underlying sketches, the “original argument”, to show through in the end result.

Gwaltney likes to think that, “a painting is a testament to time well spent.”





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Collector’s Choice: Alex Ruiz



“I’ve always been a big fan of contrast. Light against dark, sharp against soft, gruesome against adorable. This is a contrast of the latter.

I’m also proud to say this was the winner for the Redbubble Monster Challenge! Thanks so all of you who voted for this image!!!!

And so here we have our vibrant little girl running and skipping, pulling her new friend along. Where did she find him? Why hasn’t he not eaten her yet? And why is she not afraid?? Is SHE the monster???? All of this is up in the air for you to decide:)

Created in photoshop, mostly hand painted and photo textures added here and there. I love doing art that raises questions and creeps people out a little, so thanks so much for looking! ” Alex Ruiz






About Alex Ruiz

The visions of Alex Ruiz range from dark and disturbing, all the way to vomit inducing cuteness and hilarity. In his paintings, the creatures of his thoughts crawl off the page and transplant themselves into the unsuspecting brain, hopefully taking residence there as well. Born in the Cuevas Negras( the Black Caves) of Hermosillo, Mexico, Alex began engraving murals on the cavern walls, and soon after, the walls of family and friends’ baby nurseries. To this day, he continues to explore the roads and depths of the heart and mind, especially the odd and strange ones, and bury the findings within his art. Alex is now a freelance concept artist/illustrator living in Los Angeles, California, lending his talents to the film, television, and video games industries.


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Starry Night

“I’ve often wondered about how the night sky looked to Van Gogh when he painted ‘Starry Night.’

This is an homage to him, and to his painting, one of my all time favorites. We see him standing here, looking up at the night sky…probably in awe, as he wondered how he would capture the beauty he saw. As well, this was the view from the sanitarium he was staying at, as it’s well known that the poor guy was quite mentally troubled.

I wanted this piece to be somewhat magical and fantastic, not just a normal night painting. Hence the large moon, large stars, transparent clouds etc., yet keeping a mostly realistic feel to it.

If you see the original painting, you see so much motion…it’s as if he saw the vibration on all the objects, as if he wanted to capture the wind!

Thanks for looking, and I hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I enjoyed creating it:) Done in Photoshop in about 7 hrs using matte painting techniques.

If you are interested in learning my techniques, I have downloads for sale at my store: ”  by Alex Ruiz




‘The Embrace’ V2

“This is an updated version of this painting, touching up/lightening the characters and adding vines and butterflies to the borders for a more whimsical touch….much like the movie.”

See the video of this being created:




Post Apocalyptic Disneyland

” I understand some people will get upset with this image. Let me first say though, I absolutely LOVE Disneyland! What I’m really trying to covey here is a contrast of ideas. I don’t want this to happen in reality, but it COULD. Look where we live, floating on a rock in space and being shot at by other rocks!: So let’s hope and pray a meteor doesn’t hit us, ad let’s not take images like this too seriously.
“It was a blast making this image, I actually went to Disneyland to take reference photos for it and to make sure I was placing things correctly. Done in Photoshop in about three days.

I created this as part of a tutorial for Concepteez, an digital magazine created by Concept World, a great group right here on deviantart! 

If you’d like to learn techniques like the ones used in creating this image, visit my download store. 


Drawings and Studies by Alex

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Other Amazing Art Works by Alex

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I am so thrilled to feature the fantastic art of Alex Ruiz. Truly, I would say he is the Mary Shelley, (author of “Frankenstein”)  of the Visual Art World!  And so I challenge you Alex: Take this photo of Mary Shelley and superimpose your face and/or any character you have invented on to this image of Mary!!   Janis Kirstein


Alex Ruiz - Fine Artist






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