This weeks study visit to see the Diebenkorn exhibition at the RA, followed by a visit to Tate Modern to see work by his peers and contemporaries, gave me much food for thought about artistic process. The Diebenkorn exhibition is small and digestible. It looks at three periods of his work starting with postgraduate work rooted in the prevailing 1950s climate of abstract expressionism, passing through his re-exploration of figurative work and his return to abstraction in his Ocean Park series in the 70s.
Diebenkorn lead a peripatetic life and throughout the exhibition, the prevailing theme is his artistic response to whatever landscape he found himself in. Even in his most abstract work, the colours, shapes and rhythms of the landscape come through.
The aspect of the exhibition which resonated most with me was his working practice most easily understood through some of the drawings and works on paper included. ‘Untitled Seated Woman’ was drawn and painted in a life drawing session with friends. You can see how he has drawn and redrawn the head and shoulder, obliterating with paint and restating lines. He isn’t really interested in the modelling of the figure or any sense of personality or even sex. His interest is in the juxtaposition of line and shape. The way he has used paint and charcoal is particularly relevant to the way I have been trying to work interpreting sculpture into drawing.
I asked my tutor recently how one strikes a balance between observational drawing and being experimental and expressive. He advised, ‘Its partly about what to leave in or take out, but it’s also about working and reworking a surface. It’s not just about working quick but working quick over a long period of time.’ I have found this a revelatory insight and it is interesting to see it in operation in Diebenkorn’s work. His drawings (he referred to all his work on paper as drawings, regardless of medium) show his working paint over line over paint over line, searching for some resolution. He used collage in a similar way, sometimes only a tiny coloured line of the edge of a piece of collaged paper remained in his ‘drawing‘ but you can see how this translated into a thin dash of colour in his Ocean Park paintings.
After the RA, we dashed to the Tate Modern to see works by Mark Rothko, Sam Francis and Gerhard Richter. It was interesting to see both the similarities and differences between their works but also how much they were in turn influenced by the Impressionists particularly Monet and Matisse. Artists all feed off each other and I found huge food for thought and process in this study visit.