Although never intended to be abstract landscapes, works in "Richard Diebenkorn: The Ocean Park Series" impart a sense of coastal Southern California light and atmosphere.
Eighty works are going on display at the Orange County Museum of Art on Sunday in a show that will run there through May 27. It is the most comprehensive Diebenkorn exhibit to hit the art scene to date, OCMA Curator Sarah Bancroft said.
"It's his most celebrated series, but very few people have seen it in-depth" Bancroft said of Diebenkorn's pieces, which span from 1967 to 1988 and originate from his Santa Monica Ocean Park studio.
Most of Diebenkorn's work is scattered about the art world, with private collectors and institutions only owning one or two pieces, Bancroft said.
While Ocean Park Series exhibitions have been created before, it has never been done to this scale where paintings, prints and works on paper have all been showcased together, she explained.
Other Diebenkorn shows have appeared at OCMA when the museum was known as the Pavilion Gallery and the Newport Harbor Art Museum, in 1965 and 1983, respectively. In 1965, the Pavilion Gallery, which was then housed in the Balboa Pavilion, was the only West Coast venue to present "Richard Diebenkorn," a retrospective, after the show first opened at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art, said OCMA spokeswoman Kirsten Schmidt.
"The significance of this is that it is like a family reunion," Bancroft said. "Finally, a comprehensive collection of his works have been reunited. It will help scholars and the general public alike better understand his work."
Following the exhibit's close in May, the works will travel toWashington, D.C., where they will be displayed for a limited time at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Bancroft spent nearly four years curating the exhibit. The final product is an easy flow through the galleries of his early works in the Ocean Park Series to later works, which reveal a deeper complexity in the late Diebenkorn's artistic process.
However, even from his earliest work in the series, it was clear that the artist was constantly experimenting, Bancroft said.
"One thing about Diebenkorn, you can never put him in a box," she said. "I can't point to one painting as typical of his work. He was always changing."
While Bancroft can't isolate one work as characteristic of Diebenkorn's style, she does have her favorites.
"Ocean Park #79," a 93-by-81-inch oil on canvas completed in 1975, has a "composition of colors so beautiful, it breaks my heart," Bancroft said.
The piece has black girding on the outer edges and jewel-tone vertical and horizontal lines making up the heart of the work, traits which can be seen in much of Diebenkorn's paintings.
Other favorites of Bancroft include works completed on wooden cigar box lids. Diebenkorn (1922-1993) gave away most of these oil, charcoal, watercolor and graphite creations as gifts to family and friends.
"He was an experimenter," Bancroft said of Diebenkorn's diverse use of materials. "He used every media available to him."
The OCMA exhibit on Diebenkorn also features a timeline of the artist's life and a rare 1977 documentary produced by TVTV and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Diebenkorn's daughter, Gretchen Diebenkorn Grant, will discuss the series at 1 p.m. on Sunday, followed by a public tour with Bancroft.
At 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, OCMA will hold a reception and host a food truck, to be followed by a gallery tour and a discussion with Bancroft and artist Tony Berlant.