Richard Diebenkorn

(American, 1922–1993)

Ocean Park #17

, 1968
Oil on canvas, 80 x 72 in.
Purchased with the aid of funds from the National Endowment for the Arts and matching funds from the University of Iowa Foundation, 1970.38


No. 17 is a brilliant example of Richard Diebenkorn's now legendary exploration of architecture and light in his "Ocean Park" series. The Ocean Park works are essentially conversations between "ocean"—broad areas of atmospheric color implying nature's vastness—and "park"—ambiguous lines evoking a desire for order and containment.

In the mid-1960s in Santa Monica, Diebenkorn was surrounded by a new modern amusement pier, freeways, an open-air pedestrian mall, and large parking structures, all of which informed his compositions. Describing his studio, Diebenkorn stated that it had "this situation of a large, lighted rectangle, more of a square within it, and then, seen from the side, the transom provided the diagonal." He continued, "Well, there's just so many of the elements there, and I remember several more astute people who visited that studio said, ‘Well, look, you're painting your transom windows.'"

Santa Monica's unique coastal-valley weather, characterized by mild, clear, sunny days and occasional foggy/drizzly periods known as "May Gray" or "June Gloom," produced a Mediterranean-like radiance in Diebenkorn's paintings. His technique of multiple adjustments on the canvas in response to the changing light in his studio has been described as pentimenti and palimpsest, connoting the reappearance of earlier elements of line and color on the canvas surface. Working in a trial-and-error manner similar to Henri Matisse's method, he corrected as he went along, erasing, painting over, scraping, and layering. Diebenkorn also used charcoal in this painting, drawing directly into the wet pigment. In a letter dated June 9, 1970, to Ulfert Wilke, then director of the UIMA, Richard Diebenkorn declared, "I'm addicted to the use of charcoal in my painting."