Richard Diebenkorn was acclaimed during his lifetime as one of the most significant and influential American artists working in the decades following World War II. From 1953 to 1966, Diebenkorn lived in Berkeley, California. During these years Diebenkorn was extraordinarily productive and fully developed his working methods, favored themes, and artistic identity.

This period of intense exploration and innovation commenced with physically powerful Abstract Expressionist art that appeared to draw inspiration from the natural environment of the region, and ended with psychologically resonant representational works that played a leading role in the ascendance of the Bay Area Figurative movement. A continuing dialogue between abstraction and representation is a defining characteristic of Diebenkorn’s work and is exemplified in "Seawall", which seamlessly integrates representation with the raw gestural brushwork, surface richness, and emphasis on the formal properties of paint and canvas that form the hallmarks of Abstract Expressionism. The intimate scale of the work contrasts with its sweeping aerial view of a coastline, which conveys a surreal sense of soaring above the landscape. From this lofty vantage the landscape below resembles a patchwork of abstract forms, while still evoking an elemental encounter of earth, sea, and sky.

Rejecting arbitrary allegiances to schools or movements, resistant to critical praise or censure, and dismissive of commercial concerns, Diebenkorn explored and expanded the modernist tradition, making major contributions to the history of both abstraction and figuration. As the artist observed, “I’m really a traditional painter, not avant-garde at all. I wanted to follow a tradition and extend it.”


  • Title: Seawall
  • Creator: Richard Diebenkorn
  • Creator Lifespan: 1922 - 1993
  • Creator Nationality: American
  • Creator Gender: Male
  • Creator Death Place: Berkeley, California
  • Creator Birth Place: Portland, Oregon
  • Date Created: 1957
  • Location Created: Berkeley, California, United States
  • Physical Dimensions: w26 x h20 in
  • Type: Painting
  • Rights: © The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation
  • External Link: de Young
  • place part of: United States
  • Credit Line: Gift of Phyllis G. Diebenkorn
  • Artist Quote: Notes to myself on beginning a painting 1. Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion. 2. The pretty, initial position, which falls short of completeness, is not to be valued—except as a stimulus for further moves. 3. DO search. But in order to find other than what is searched for. 4. Use and respond to the initial fresh qualities, but consider them absolutely expendable. 5. Don’t “discover” a subject—of any kind. 6. Somehow don’t be bored—but if you must, use it in action. Use its destructive potential. 7. Mistakes can’t be erased, but they move you from your present position. 8. Keep thinking about Pollyanna. 9. Tolerate chaos. 10. Be careful only in a perverse way. – Richard Diebenkorn

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