Book Review: Richard Diebenkorn: Still Lifes and Landscapes by Matthew Ballou

Richard Diebenkorn Kelly’s Cove Press

Over the last couple of years Kelly’s Cove Press, in conjunction with the Richard Diebenkorn Foundation, has been producing a collection of small, image-heavy books of the 20th century American master’s works. 2013 saw From the Model and Abstractions on Paper, both of which gave Diebenkorn aficionados access to a significant trove of never before published artworks (See my review of Abstractions on Paper here. Now, in 2014, we get Still Lifes and Landscapes, a valuable new collection featuring over 100 artworks, including nearly 50 not seen in print before.

The great benefit of these books is that they open Diebenkorn’s oeuvre like never before; we get to see many missing links, as it were. So many freshly uncovered works becoming available for the public to peruse refine the contours of the artist’s diverse body of work. In an era dominated by the Internet and never-ending mountains of information – one in which entire lifetimes of artists’ works are available at the touch of a key – it is wonderful to buy a book, sit down in a quiet moment, and page through dozens of images one has never seen before.

Richard Diebenkorn Kelly’s Cove Press

Still Lives and Landscapes is, perhaps, the jewel in the triumvirate of Kelly’s Cove Press books on the artist. Editor Bart Schneider explored the artist’s archives a third time to flesh out Diebenkorn’s particular approach to still life and landscape. It was a worthy exploration.

Striking and sometimes strange, many of the newly revealed artworks provide alternate views of Diebenkorn’s working methods. These visual poems add to the overarching formal and narrative push of the artist’s more famous works. I was drawn to the initial pages of the book where studies of shoes lead us into studio still lives and those iconic knives and tomatoes. The tabletops and tea cups, the scissors and cigarettes, the envelopes and flowers; these are the identifiable subjects of Diebenkorn’s 50s and 60s work (there are a few outliers from the 1980s here as well). Yet we know that the artist’s true subject extended far beyond objects themselves. Their orientations, and his orchestration of those various arrangements, became the formal dynamic that allured Diebenkorn’s eye and inspired his ceaseless hand, eventually coalescing into the grand Ocean Park series of his later years.

Richard Diebenkorn Kelly’s Cove Press

One particular joy of this collection of work is how some works, newly seen here, show Diebenkorn’s wonderful sense of color in terms of sharp, linear elements and in broad swaths. It is easy to think of his representational period as somehow less colorful – all too often previously published still lifes happened to be monochromatic – but here we see many colorful, gleaming examples (page 14, page 29, page 61, page 73, page 88, and many more).

Also welcome in this volume is the way famous, larger artworks are ensconced amid smaller, more intimate – yet no less powerful – pieces. This page-to-page association of works helps craft a great sense of the intentionality and consistency of Diebenkorn’s efforts. In this book we get a fresh feel for his use of color and the rambunctiousness of his painterly action (…fingers and all! See page 71).

Richard Diebenkorn Kelly’s Cove Press

I love that after all of these years I can still be surprised by a Diebenkorn work. That’s often a hard feeling to obtain, so kudos to Kelly’s Cove Press for striking that chord with me in each of their three Diebenkorn books. Here’s hoping they mine his archive again in 2015.

This is a high quality small press book that is well worth your $20. See below for more information on how to get your own copy.

Bibliographic information:
Richard Diebenkorn:
Still Lifes and Landscapes

Edited by Bart Schneider
128 pages, 101 full color images (nearly half unpublished until now)
November 2014
$20.00 paper

Purchasing information here.

Author Bio:
Matthew Ballou is an Associate Teaching Professor at the University of Missouri. He lives in Columbia, Missouri with his polymathic wife and three glorious children, and is learning how to see and dream well. More information here.