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Richard Diebenkorn's exploration of color

The artist's abstract paintings are powerfully organized around different hues.

Focus on yellow: 'Ocean Park No. 38' (1971): Oil on canvas, 100 by 81 in., by Richard Diebenkorn. Each painting in the artist's 'Ocean Park' series investigates different color moods and combinations.

Courtesy of The Phillips Collection

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Some critics believe that the rightly revered "Ocean Park" color field series of paintings by Richard Diebenkorn (1922-93) depicts abstracted interpretations of the view from the artist's studio in the town of Venice, near Santa Monica in southern California.

In fact, Diebenkorn once revealed that if there is any relationship between these abstract paintings and the outside world, it is derived from an unlikely source: a helicopter. In the early 1970s, not long after Diebenkorn had begun the "Ocean Park" pictures, he set out to gain a bird's-eye perspective of the California landscape. The grid and "path" pattern that he observed from a helicopter flight inspired later canvases in the series, though they are not "landscape" pictures as such.

Reminiscent of Mark Rothko's famous single-hued canvases, indebted to Piet Mondrian's geometric compositional scaffolding, and owing its genesis to a specific semiabstract work by Henri Matisse, this nonetheless original series amounts to a meditation on the impact of color and the possibilities of proportion as dictated by line.

Each painting in the series reflects different color moods and combinations. Some are powerfully organized around blue, others investigate red, but part of the fascination of the pictures is derived from the role played by subordinate hues.

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