Richard Diebenkorn: The Sketchbooks Revealed
Throughout his long career, seminal California artist Richard Diebenkorn (Stanford BA ’49) always kept a sketchbook—a “portable studio,” as he called it—to capture his ideas. The books contain 1,045 drawings that span the artist’s career and represent the range of styles and subjects he explored—both gestural renderings of mundane, everyday items and powerful vignettes of intimate family moments. In the pages of these books, we see brief visual meditations upon vistas encountered through travels, carefully built-up studies that would become the large-scale Ocean Park paintings we know so well, and a multitude of renderings of the people who surrounded him over the years, revealing his fascination with the human figure.
After Diebenkorn‘s death in 1993, his wife, Phyllis (Stanford BA ’42), kept the sketchbooks stored in a cardboard box for years, uncertain if she would be willing to share such private artistic meditations with the public. In 2014, she decided that the sketchbooks should be seen and studied, and in an extraordinary gesture of generosity and trust, she gifted the entire collection—along with bits and pieces of ephemera tucked inside several books—to the Cantor Arts Center. The exhibition at the Cantor Art Center marks the first-ever public viewing of the sketchbooks. As the care and preservation of these books necessitates that they be displayed in cases, making only a single page or spread visible at a time, the Cantor completed the digitization of all twenty-nine books, making them accessible in the exhibition on touchscreens and here on the museum’s website. With these, one may now leaf through the books digitally and see every sketch in the order conceived, gaining insight into the way Diebenkorn experimented with line, shape, form, and perspective and creatively tackled challenging subjects.
Looking at the sketchbooks feels like revelatory access into the private artistic life of a publicly revered artist. The books are filled with stunningly gestural sketches of fragments from the artist’s lived experience. As Diebenkorn kept these sketchbooks throughout his life and career, putting one down only to pick it up again years later, they are undatable; and each turn of the page offers a total surprise. With the sketchbooks now in their permanent home at the museum, this exhibition hints at the rich possibilities their presence at Stanford will undoubtedly bring to bear. The collection is a treasure trove ripe for artists, students, and scholars of art history alike to explore deeply.
Click here to view Stanford’s organized library of Diebenkorn’s sketchbooks.
See below for a smattering of his sketches and drawings.