Diebenkorn and abstraction vs figuration

I made my second visit to the Richard Diebenkorn show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. Im hoping to make it back one more time before the show closes on September 29. ( My birthday by the way!)

Diebenkorn's work has inspired me ever since I came across the Ocean Park paintings at the Phillips Collection in Washington DC in the late 80s. I was a museum guard there, my first job after graduating from high school. The Phillips is a gem, a small collection  of 19th and 20th century paintings housed in the Dupont Circle home of Duncan Phillips, an avid collector, patron and friend to many 20th c artists including Diebenkorn.  It was my job to greet visitors and make sure nobody touched the paintings. Mainly I stayed in the cozy galleries all day long developing my love of painting. 

Diebenkorn was an old man by then but periodically came to the Phillips and I remember him on one of his visits, hunched over a cane shuffling through the galleries. Not quite the tall, handsome painter of  the great  photographs in the exhibit.  Still it was a thrill to see him even though I had no idea then,  that I would be a painter living within walking distance of Ingleside,  the neighborhood of Debenkorns childhood. 

The de Young show focuses on the period between 1953 and 1966 when Diebenkorn lived and painted in Berkely. It was during this time that his work began to shift from abstraction to figuration.  His previous work had mainly adhered to the style of abstract expressionism but by this time he had begun to feel frustrated by the requirements of the ab ex school. He made his way to figuration while still employing the ab ex hallmarks,  "gestural brushwork, surface richness and emphasis on formal qualities of paint and canvas" (from the museum wall blurb)

What makes Diebenkorn's work so interesting to me is this tension between pure abstraction and pure representation.  It seems to me that good painting is always somewhere in the middle and I believe that a where painting falls on this spectrum of abstraction to representation is where the artist's truth can be found.

I have more to say on this topic, especially on the subject of Diebekorn's landscapes but will keep that for a future post.