Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years (1953-1966) is now on exhibit at the de Young Museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. It was during those years that Diebenkorn temporarily moved away from abstraction, becoming part of the so-called Bay Area Figurative School that included local painters Elmer Bischoff and David Park.
As writer Bob Schildgen reported in the pages of California in 2009, Bischoff had a studio at 2571 Shattuck, right around the corner from Park’s on Addison Street, now the site of the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, while Diebenkorn kept a space at the “triangle building” at Adeline and Stanford, near the Oakland border. The building was razed in the late 1960s to make way for the new BART system. Recalling the studio many years later, Diebenkorn said: “It was a triangular room at the back of a tavern. I could open a door and look right down the bar at all the regulars. There was a lot of useless furniture built into the wall, and when I pulled it off you could see many different overlapping layers of house paint. The effect was fascinating.”
Diebenkorn first came to Cal with the Marine Corps as a part of the V12 officer training program. While there he studied under the famous Berkeley painter and art professor, Hans Hoffman. The current showing at the de Young comes 65 years after Diebenkorn’s first solo exhibit in 1948 at the Legion of Honor. Speaking of his early career, Diebenkorn told in the New Yorker in 1987: “At that time, neither I nor any of my friends even dreamed of getting a dealer. What made our work possible was that we didn’t think we were painting for history; we were just making individual pictures. If you don’t assume a rigid historical mission, you have infinitely more freedom.”