Landscape and Contemporary Art: Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park


Diebenkorn has been a flagship artist for me. I saw the first showing of his Ocean Park series while I was still in college, and seeing those luminous paintings was a turning point in my aesthetic education. I have never lost interest in this work, and every time I find one hanging in a museum–they show up in unexpected places–I am overwhelmed all over again.

These words, from Sister Wendy Beckett:

At the height of Abstract Expressionism, Diebenkorn’s work retained a connection to landscape painting. In 1954 Life magazine called his work “abstract landscape,” a term which could be applied to the Ocean Park series.

Diebenkorn began the series, which would eventually grow to more than 140 paintings, in 1966‚ĶDaily walks to his studio took him through the Santa Monica Park, which he explored in this series of large canvases. The paintings echo each other: Formal aspects — the ruler-straight lines, some visible, others almost rubbed out — and the sensuous blended colors recur in most. But each finds this “abstract landscape” in a different mood almost becoming a chronicle of the light and composition at play in the park and the adjoining ocean.

4 Replies to “Landscape and Contemporary Art: Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park”

  1. I have really been enjoying looking at these paintings every day. Thinking about them has led me back to one of my all time favorites, Andy Goldsworthy. I watched “River and Tides” for the hundredth time and was reminded by how amazingly compelling the earth, working with the earth, reinterpreting the earth and re-framing the earth in art is to me. I know you are a painter and connect most to that medium, but how do you feel about artists like Goldworthy and his form of connecting with the earth as compared to some of the Aboriginal artists you encountered?

  2. I have never seen a Diebenkorn first hand, but have had to make with gazing at reasonable reproductions. What fascinates me in his work is that the drawn marks are so much evident in these paintings, sometimes obscured, but always so well integrated in the final whole. What is amazing is that he knew when to stop, proceed, hide, leave revealed – a real walking on the razor’s edge way of working. these paintings have such an underlying relationship with how one perceives music, of harmony, melody, point, counterpoint etc., interweaving and revealing the whole over a period of time. And they take time from the viewer in the same way. Thanks for posting this!

  3. Kellin,

    Goldsworthy’s approach to the land is like a handshake, an attempt to find common ground between a particular place and his artmaking self. I have been very moved by some of his constructions/installations because his aesthetic is contemplative, thoughtful and respectful of something in nature that is ineffable.

    When I compare his approach to that of the Aboriginal painters, I see a distinction that cuts along the same Western cultural faultline that I have addressed in earlier postings. To me his approach is ocularcentric and essentially Western. He does not seem to be accessing other ways of knowing a particular place (such as the haptic or metonymic orientation of Aboriginal art.) In that sense his subject matter and his relation to it is relatively direct.

    [Note: For an interesting excerpt that deals with current content and subject trends in contemporary art, go to Slow Painting (]

    Thank you for your comments. I’d like to hear more about what you think the similarities and differences are between Goldsworthy and the Aboriginal work you have seen.

  4. Gabriella,

    I really respond to your comparison of Diebenkorn’s way of working with music. His integration of drawn and painted marks (and his use of a kind of pentimento of layered realities) is a quality I also find in the works of Brice Marden. Both Marden and Diebenkorn use tracery and the drawn line in such a painterly manner, leaving their “I started down this road but decided not to proceed” gestures to remind us that the human hand has passed through the work. What some may view as imperfections are in fact perfectly tuned to the whole. Dissonance moving to resolution, in sound as well as in paint.

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