Robin Greenwood reviews paintings by Richard Diebenkorn at the Royal Academy of Arts, London, on view March 14 - June 2, 2015.
Greenwood writes: "Berkeley No.57, 1955, which is in the first room, and is the best painting in the show. It’s a difficult work, complex, demanding, having something of a wrestling-match with itself over exactly what it wants to do, perhaps not entirely resolved; and for those reasons and others, rather engaging. There are coloured forms in movement, rolling, turning against one another, receding and advancing, competing with and contradicting Diebenkorn’s predisposition towards drawing. Here, in this one work, that tendency is temporarily suppressed in favour of a more open, painterly-structured spatiality... Berkeley No.57. comes at the end of his first phase of abstract work, and surpasses all previous paintings. So what’s going on here? Why, I wondered, when he had just got to a really challenging place with his work, just got to something with a bit more muscle to it than the frankly rather commonplace works that precede it; why, then, does he stop what he’s doing and start on some out-of-the-way figurative thing? ... I do actually have some empathy with Diebenkorn’s dilemma and his switch away from abstraction for a decade. But, and this is a big ‘but’, I was thrown off sympathising thus by two things: firstly, that Diebenkorn changed tack just when things were getting interesting/challenging in terms of how three-dimensional space in his abstract painting might be tackled anew; and secondly, that the figurative paintings on show here seem to offer no furtherance to, or deliverance from, those issues."