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$900,000 - 1,200,000
sold for $1,515,000
George and Elinor Poindexter (acquired in 1958)
Poindexter Gallery, New York (acquired in 1959)
Acquired from the above by the family of the present owner in 1959
New York, Poindexter Gallery, Richard Diebenkorn: Recent Paintings, February 24 - March 29, 1958
Pasadena Art Museum, November 20, 1963 - July 3, 1964 (on loan)
Santa Barbara, University of California, Art Gallery, 20th Century Paintings, Sculpture and Drawings from Santa Barbara, April 20 - May 14, 1965
Jane Livingston and Andrea Liguori, eds., Richard Diebenkorn: The Catalogue Raisonné, vol. 3, New Haven, 2016, no. 2095, p. 162 (illustrated)
“One of the most interesting polarities in art is between representation, at one end of the stick, and abstraction, at the other end, and I’ve found myself all over that stick.” – Richard Diebenkorn
Painted in 1956 during Richard Diebenkorn’s famed Berkeley years, Driveway beautifully epitomizes the early stages of the artist’s seminal shift from abstraction to representation that would cement him as one of the most significant American painters of the past century. Glistening seductively and saturated with green, ochre and blue color planes, this work is drenched with the light and atmosphere of the Bay Area in which Diebenkorn had immersed himself at the time. Setting the foundation for such works as the monumental Cityscape I (Landscape No. 1), 1963, now in the collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this exquisite painting presents a luscious green landscape through which the jagged white diagonals of a driveway ascend towards the blue sky. Despite presenting itself with the immediacy of what appear to be spontaneous brushstrokes, Driveway is in fact the culmination of a laborious creative process that saw Diebenkorn, like fellow Abstract Expressionist painter Willem de Kooning, successively and continuously rework the composition with impasto paint– discovering and developing his ideas within the very process of painting. Epitomizing Diebenkorn’s pursuit of achieving tension beneath calm, the brilliant color contrasts, rich impasto texture and extreme diagonals that activate the composition are counterbalanced by the reduced geometries of the distilled landscape. Acquired directly from Diebenkorn’s solo exhibition at the Poindexter Gallery in New York in 1959, Driveway is one of the highlights of Betty and Stanley Sheinbaum's distinguished collection.
Created during his formative time in Berkeley as one of the leading figures of the Bay Area Figurative Movement, Driveway is among the earliest examples of Diebenkorn’s radical shift to figuration that would usher in his mature practice. Diebenkorn had hitherto established himself as a leading Abstract Expressionist painter, pursuing his career on the fringes of the New York-centric art world while living and working in San Francisco and Sausalito, Woodstock, New York, Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Urbana, Illinois. Yet, as curator Timothy Anglin Burgard notes of his Berkeley years, “it was during this period that Diebenkorn really became Diebenkorn” (Timothy Anglin Burgard, “Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years”, Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, online). In 1955, at the height of his success as an abstract artist, Diebenkorn decided to challenge the prevailing orthodoxy of abstraction championed by such critics as Clement Greenberg. His daring move was triggered notably by Willem de Kooning’s groundbreaking Women series. As Diebenkorn recalled, “my faith in Abstract Expressionism had been shaken by de Kooning; so strong a man as he had changed” (Richard Diebenkorn, 1962, quoted in Timothy Anglin Burgard, “The Nature of Abstraction”, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2013, p. 36). Beautifully visualizing the remarkable metamorphosis in Diebenkorn’s practice, Driveway is situated between his overtly figurative still lifes and portraits, such as the seminal Girl on a Terrace, 1956, Neuberger Museum of Art, Purchase, and his abstract Berkeley paintings, all created in the same year. As fellow artist Manuel Neri recalled, Diebenkorn’s embrace of the representational sent shockwaves through the establishment: "God damn it, it was pretty strong stuff. It was a type of painting we hadn't seen on the West Coast before. Diebenkorn had a wildness...Those were urgent times, wild times. He brought us a new language to talk in" (Manuel Neri, quoted in Gerald Nordland, Richard Diebenkorn, New York, 2001, p. 63).
Driveway speaks to the central theme of the natural landscape in Diebenkorn’s oeuvre, a motif that began to serve as inspiration and point of departure for both figurative and abstract works starting in the early 1950s – culminating notably in his Ocean Park series from 1967 – 1988. The compressed spatial organization in the present work evidences the breakthrough Diebenkorn had in 1951 when traveling between Albuquerque and San Francisco in a low-flying propeller plane: "the aerial view showed me a rich variety of ways of treating a flat plane-– like flattened mud or paint. Forms operating in shallow depth reveal a huge range of possibilities for the painter" (Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Timothy Anglin Burgard, “The Nature of Abstraction”, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2013, p. 43). Compressing the three-dimensionality of the Bay Area landscape into the two-dimensional picture plane with Driveway, Diebenkorn skillfully achieves a spatial ambiguity that balances between abstraction and representation: the sharp tonal contrasts and dynamic diagonals evoke a semblance of perspective, while the jigsaw-like pattern of interlocking fields of color bring our attention back to the materiality of the two-dimensional canvas. At the same time as the chromatic brilliance points to the lasting influence of Henri Matisse’s practice, this collapse of foreground and background more specifically speaks to the legacy of Paul Cézanne on Diebenkorn’s landscapes. Just as Cézanne had distilled his beloved Provencal landscape into essential forms shapes, Diebenkorn takes the lush Bay Area as a point of departure.
As such, Driveway perfectly demonstrates how Diebenkorn’s embrace of the figurative enabled him to more fully liberate form and color. As he explained, “I can remember that when I stopped abstract painting and started figure painting it was as though a kind of constraint came in that was welcomed because I had felt that in the last of the abstract paintings around ’55, it was almost as though I could do too much, too easily. There was nothing hard to come up against. And suddenly the figure painting furnished a lot of this“(Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Timothy Anglin Burgard, “The Nature of Abstraction”, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2013, p. 36). Epitomizing Cézanne’s famous dictum “painting from nature is not copying the object; it is realizing one’s sensations”, Driveway is a remarkable example of Diebenkorn’s celebrated ability of capturing his surroundings without representing them literally (Paul Cézanne, quoted in Robert Hughes, The Shock of the New, New York, 2013, p. 71).
Neither fully figurative nor fully abstract, Driveway exemplifies the oscillation between abstraction and representation so characteristic of Diebenkorn’s mature practice. Simultaneously anticipating Diebenkorn’s figurative masterpieces and the reduced landscape geometries of the famed Ocean Park series, the present work beautifully ties together the key tenets of Diebenkorn’s influential artistic practice. As such, Driveway encapsulates how, in Diebenkorn’s own words, "all paintings start out of a mood, out of a relationship with things or people, out of a complete visual impression…A forceful quality in art, truly representative of our modern situation, will rise above the labels of abstraction and realism…a painter is bound to reflect himself and his times” (Richard Diebenkorn, quoted in Timothy Anglin Burgard, “The Nature of Abstraction”, Richard Diebenkorn: The Berkeley Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, 2013, p. 36).
$900,000 - 1,200,000
sold for $1,515,000
New York Auction 16 November 2017