Take in Diebenkorn’s varied career 

“Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Christopher Diebenkorn” at Paul Thiebaud Gallery in San Francisco presents an unusually comprehensive look at an artist whose reputation rests on having been one of the leading West Coast abstract expressionist painters.

Equally important, however, are stages in which the California painter devoted himself to semi-abstract and figurative work, including his association with the Bay Area figurative movement of the 1950s and ’60s.

The exhibition features 28 pieces and covers various periods from 1948 through 1991, before the artist died at age 70 in Berkeley in 1993.

The show doesn’t include Diebenkorn’s major works, lacking the artist’s characteristic tall, stately abstracts, and most of the pieces are no larger than 25 inches.

Yet its selections exemplify qualities that distinguish his painting: a variety of styles, masterful use of color, diverse application of paint and the continuous richness of his work as a whole.

A semi-abstract oil on canvas, “Seated Girl with Head Turned,” is filled with diverse shadings of rich color and coarse, textured  paintstrokes.

By contrast, the color in “Seated Woman, Head in Hand” — a charcoal drawing on paper — is simple and sparse, just pigment on white paper. One doesn’t usually think of charcoal or white paper as “color,” but here their visual properties are strongly felt in how the charcoal lies on the paper; its heavy application asserts itself strongly against the white.

The quiet, almost meditative mood of the piece also stands out. Diebenkorn’s images depict private moments of individuals when they feel completely unobserved.

This absence of self-consciousness is also revealed in unexpected areas of his work, even with objects. The colors and angles of tea cups, tables or chairs, while interesting or beautiful, don’t overwhelm or take over a canvas.

Most of Diebenkorn’s abstractions take their inspiration from his surrounding environment. “Chabot Valley,” a 1955 oil on canvas, is splashed with color throughout. Various shades of blue dominate the canvas, while others — green, yellow, red and maroon — sneak in and around.

Although a figurative landscape is suggested, with depictions of sky, greenery, houses and streets, the painting’s essential abstract character remains at the forefront.

Richard Diebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings from the Collection of Christopher Diebenkorn

Paul Thiebaud Gallery, 645 Chestnut St., San Francisco
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; closes June 26
Admission: Free
Contact: (415) 434-3055; www.paulthiebaudgallery.com

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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