Fantasy Pick #18: Diebenkorn

I’m playing “Fantasy Art Collection,” inspired by games like Fantasy Baseball. Go to the main page to get the idea.

Fantasy Art Collection pick #17: 2 Diebenkorns

A few weeks ago I raced to the Met to catch the last weekend of Matisse: In Search of True Painting. I was thinking about buying one, but a weird thing happened, and all the show did was remind me how much I really love Diebenkorn. So I bought these two: Ocean Horizon and Ocean Park No. 67. It’s the combination of Matisse and Diebenkorn that’s helped me learn to see, and how to paint.


I started taking drawing classes in high school, and have a terrible memory of sitting on the local defunct train tracks with a sketchpad, trying to figure out perspective. The experience was terrible because sitting on train tracks of any kind is nauseating, but also because looking at the huge world in front of me, and trying to put it down on a piece of paper was equally nauseating. It simply didn’t fit on the page (I had the same problem with obese models in figure drawing).

It was around this time that I discovered Matisse, and remember seeing the two paintings below—finally able to see 3D as 2D. Something switched in my head, and I suddenly saw the paper as a flat surface, and the picture on it as an arrangement of shapes. Everything collapsed and the receding train tracks became a triangle, the horizon a rectangle, I saw lines instead of streets, shapes instead of cars and was finally able to draw the world in front of me. AND for this I thank you, Matisse!


So … back to the weird thing that happened when I went to see the Matisse show … I was walking through room after room of his paintings and couldn’t for the life of me remember why he struck such a chord with me in my youth (the previous thoughts came later). Aside from these two, I was looking at paintings of fruit, landscapes, women, and felt nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Diebenkorn is obviously influenced by Matisse, but his work makes more sense to me. I can relate to it better because it feels contemporary. I don’t know why exactly. I don’t live in California and spend little time at the beach, but it’s not really the subject matter that I’m drawn to. His paintings look like things I see, and they have more to do with perception. Their non-specificity allows me to see my own world in them, and the layers of color and energy of his marks equally amaze me. Perfection!

I think it’s natural to grow out of artists. I guess it’s a positive thing that signifies creative growth and life moving ahead, but there’s a part of me that wishes I could still hang on to all the old inspiration with the same intensity. From time to time I still think of Matisse when I’m sitting here writing at my desk, looking out the window.

I was going through my books of his work tonight and pulled out Dance Me to the End of Love. I bought it 19 years ago, and started remembering why I loved him so much. I didn’t know who Leonard Cohen was at the time, but the book actually has more meaning to me now than it did all those years that it sat on my shelf.


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