My Diebenkorn, My “Berkeley”

my diebenkorn 2 rotated

Blogger June Malone posts a copy she made after an abstract Gerhard Richter watercolor, saying that she wasn’t sure she understood Richter’s abstraction, but that copying one taught her more about achieving depth and richness of color in the watercolor medium.

It inspired me to pull out my copy after Diebenkorn above.  The original, Berkeley #57, painted the year I was born,  lives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  There’s a great many differences between my copy and Diebenkorn’s original painting which I’m aware of even though I’ve never seen the actual painting.  I’ve seen enough Diebenkorns to know that his oil painting’s surface is very textural whereas I kept the acrylic paint I used to make my copy fairly thin.  The scale of the paintings is radically different.  Diebenkorn’s painting is 58 3/4 inches square and mine (not truly a square) measures 18 x 24 inches.

However, like June, I found the practice of copying an abstract painting very intriguing.  My approach to copying Diebenkorn, not withstanding the paint, is rather more like a drawing in feeling.  I drew his lines and shapes, felt my way through the image’s forms, and ignored (of necessity) the layerings that I know exist in the original.  Also, my copy has a lot of “me” in it. 

Copying his painting was somewhat like taking a short walk with him in a Berkeley of imagination (I’ve never even been to California).  And while we walked, suffice to say we had a brief and pleasant chat. 

Diebenkorn’s painting is abstract, having no identifiable subject matter.  But it contains many feelings about natural forms, some of them landscape .  Equally it has many touchstones to early European and Euro-american painting: indebtedness to de Kooning, for instance, and through de Kooning more remotely to Picasso.  The SFMOMA site has some videos of Diebenkorn being interviewed and working.