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The Elegant Line: Early Prints by Richard Diebenkorn
November 3, 2004 - January 30, 2005
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art [SMoCA] is showcasing a rarely seen body of early work by artist Richard Diebenkorn (1922-1992), one of the most celebrated California modernist painters. Best known for his large-scale abstract paintings, Diebenkorn also worked as a printmaker and moved easily between figuration and abstraction throughout his career. "The Elegant Line: Early Prints by Richard Diebenkorn" includes 41 etchings and drypoints (the first Diebenkorn ever made) from the height of his figurative phase in the 1960s, when he lived in Berkeley, California. Arranged in an ordered set by the artist, these prints offer an intimate glimpse into Diebenkorn's personal life, including many casual scenes of his studio and affectionate, offhand portraits of his wife, Phyllis. (right: Richard Diebenkorn, #8 (Double Portrait of Phyllis with Motif), 1965, soft-ground etching, 14 3/4 x 17 3/4 x inches. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, Gift of the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Charitable Foundation)
At the suggestion of his friend Kathan Brown (the founder of Crown Point Press), Diebenkorn kept a stack of etching plates in his studio and worked on them to combat painter's block. As a result, his prints express a sense of ease and appreciation for the quiet interludes of daily life. Unrehearsed and often revelatory, they also reflect Diebenkorn's lifelong interest in the lyrical domestic interiors of French painter Henri Matisse. Whether he used etching, aquatint or drypoint, Diebenkorn maximized the impact of each mark and demonstrated exceptional technical facility in a medium that few associate with him. Although Diebenkorn would later turn to abstract painting, his work would always demonstrate the refined draftsmanship and compositional sophistication seen in these early prints.
This particular suite of prints was one of the first editions published by Crown Point Press, today one of the country's most influential fine art presses, and also the first contemporary works purchased by the legendary art collectors Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson, who donated the portfolio to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco in 1996. (right: Richard Diebenkorn, #26 (Table Still Life with Artist's Glasses), 1964, drypoint and aquatint, 17 3/4 x 14 3/4 inches. Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, Anderson Graphic Arts Collection, Gift of the Harry W. and Mary Margaret Anderson Charitable Foundation)
The relationship between the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the Andersons has a long history. According to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco web page  for its Achenbach Graphic Arts Council:
The Crown Point Press web site History page  explains Crown Point's early relationship with Richard Diebenkorn:
WALL TEXT FROM THE EXHIBITION
Richard Diebenkorn (1922-92) was perhaps the most pivotal California modernist painter. He moved easily -- and atypically -- back and forth between abstraction and figuration during his career. The Elegant Line: early prints by Richard Diebenkorn includes 41 etchings and drypoints (the first Diebenkorn ever made) from the early 1960s, at the height of his figurative phase. Arranged in an ordered set by the artist, this portfolio offers a peak into his intimate life -- e.g. casual scenes in his studio and affectionate, offhand portraits of Phyllis, his wife, who is the subject of sixteen compositions.
These prints were made while Diebenkorn lived in Berkeley, California, at a time when he was working closely with several painters collectively called the Bay Area figurative group. Reacting to the esoteric intellectualism of New York School abstract expressionism, Diebenkorn and his friends allowed the ordinary viewer access to the work via figuration, without sacrificing expressive gestures. At the suggestion of Kathan Brown (a friend and founder of Crown Point Press, pictured in #28), Diebenkorn kept a stack of etching plates in his studio and worked on them to combat painter's block. He drew directly on the plates and, as a result, these prints have an easy spontaneity. They are unrehearsed and revelatory. This delight in domesticity and the similar flattening of three-dimensional space as well as a signature tension beneath a calm surface bear testament to the much-celebrated influence of Matisse's paintings on Diebenkorn's eye.
Whether he used etching, aquatint or drypoint, Diebenkorn maximized the significance of each mark and demonstrated rare technical facility in a medium few associate with him. Though Diebenkorn would later return to abstract painting, his refined draftsmanship and compositional sophistication remained intact. The impact of these small personal works on paper resides in Deibernkorn's openness, his effortless versatility and his elegant line.
This suite of prints is one of the first editions published by Crown Point Press, today one of the nation's most influential print workshops. It is also the first contemporary art purchased by Harry W. and Mary Margaret (affectionately known as "Hunk" and "Moo") Anderson, now internationally known for their stellar contemporary collection. In 1996, the Andersons gave their collection of prints, now known as the Anderson Graphics Collection, to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. The Achenbach Foundation, as part of the Fine Arts Museums, administers the collection.
"The Elegant Line: Early Prints by Richard Diebenkorn" was organized by the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Local presentation is made possible in part by the SMoCA Salon.
RL readers may also enjoy these related articles  on Richard Diebenkorn :
1. http://www.thinker.org/fam/membership/councils/council.asp?councilkey=1 accessed October 15, 2004
2. http://www.crownpoint.com/html/history.html accessed October 15, 2004. The Crown Point web site contains two pages on Richard Diebenkorn including a photo of the artist.
3. RL has 31 articles mentioning Richard Diebenkorn.
Editor's note: RL readers may also enjoy:
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