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A Lifetime of Sketchbooks from Postwar Painter Richard Diebenkorn

Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #10, page 13 (1943-1993), gouache and watercolor on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #10, page 13 (1943–93), gouache and watercolor on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)

Bay Area artist Richard Diebenkorn kept sketchbooks for his entire career; they served as a sort of nomadic studio where he experimented with visuals that bridged figurative and abstract ideas. Recently the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University acquired 29 of Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks, and this September they’re going on view to the public for the first time in Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed.

“The books are filled with stunningly gestural sketches of bits and pieces of daily life, both mundane capturing of everyday things, and powerful vignettes of intimate family moments,” Alison Gass, the Cantor’s associate director for collections, exhibitions, and curatorial affairs, told Hyperallergic. “We see brief visual meditations on vistas seen on travels, and we see carefully built studies that would become the large-scale finished Ocean Park paintings we know so well.”

Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #2, page 37 (1943–1993), felt-tip marker ink on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #2, page 37 (1943–93), felt-tip marker ink on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation) (click to enlarge)

Diebenkorn, who graduated from Stanford in 1949, passed away in 1993, and his widow Phyllis Diebenkorn, who donated the sketchbooks, died this year. His legacy of vibrant landscapes and abstract studies is secure in postwar art, yet the sketchbooks join the Cantor’s existing Diebenkorn collection of completed work to offer a rare insight into his process. All 29 of them were digitized prior to the exhibition, and will soon be available online. In the show, the sketchbooks will be open to a single page, but visitors can flip through with digital versions on touch screens.

“As Diebenkorn kept these sketchbooks throughout his life and career, putting one down only to pick it up years later, they are un-datable, but also each turn of the page offers a total surprise,” Gass said.

Within the sketchbooks are over a thousand drawings that reflect his interest in both nature and the built environment of California, along with studies of figures, portraits of his wife, and experiments with abstract expressionist color fields. The Cantor Arts Center shared the selections below as a preview prior to their first public exhibition.

Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #2, page 33 (1943–1993), gouache, watercolor, crayon with graphite and cut and pasted paper on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #2, page 33 (1943–93), gouache, watercolor, crayon with graphite and cut and pasted paper on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, Cover of Sketchbook #8 (1943–1993), printing ink on laminated board (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, Cover of Sketchbook #8 (1943–93), printing ink on laminated board (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #8, page 85 (1943–1993), ballpoint pen ink on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #8, page 85 (1943–93), ballpoint pen ink on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #2, pages 26–27 (1943–1993), graphite on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #2, pages 26–27 (1943–93), graphite on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn," Untitled" from Sketchbook #2, page 17 (1943-1993), ink wash, watercolor or gouache with crayon and felt-tip marker on paper on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn,” Untitled” from Sketchbook #2, page 17 (1943–93), ink wash, watercolor or gouache with crayon and felt-tip marker on paper on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #13, page 13 (1965–66), pen and ink on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #13, page 13 (1965–66), pen and ink on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, "Untitled" from Sketchbook #20, page 45 (1943–1993), crayon on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)
Richard Diebenkorn, “Untitled” from Sketchbook #20, page 45 (1943–93), crayon on paper (gift of Phyllis Diebenkorn, © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation)

Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealedwill take place September 9 to February 8, 2016, at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University (328 Lomita Drive at Museum Way, Stanford, California). 

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