Yesterday I went to see Richard Diebenkorn’s notebooks –only a few blocks from where I live. I have visited every day since Feb. 10.
Thanks to his wife Phyllis and the Diebenkorn Foundation, the notebooks are on view at Stanford University’s Cantor Arts Center through August 22, 2016. (News flash: the show has been extended—it began Sept 9 and was originally to end Feb. 8.) “The Sketchbooks Revealed” includes 29 sketchbooks that have never previously been displayed. The full text of the notebooks is available online.
For over two decades since the artist’s death in 1993, the notebooks have been kept in a cardboard box in the home of Diebenkorn’s widow, Phyllis. Before her death in January of 2015, Phyllis decided to donate the entire collection to the Cantor Arts Center. Both Diebenkorns graduated from Stanford University, where they met. Phyllis was both a PhD in psychology and muse: she posed for many of the drawings shown here, and an outline of this graceful woman is seen in his paintings. The exhibit’s curator, Alison Gass, called her donation “an extraordinary gesture of generosity and trust,” given their private nature.
For the show, the museum courageously and generously broke apart one of the larger spiral notebooks and mounted it like a book on the wall, at eye level, each page in plexiglass, so you can view every page of at least one entire notebook in person. This is great of course because for the rest of the exhibit we view a book opened to one page, or loose items.
I have been reading Roland Barthes and was struck by his comments regarding the role that language takes when interacting with text. (There’s a nice summary here.) In Diebenkorn’s notebooks there is almost nothing written .Yet, there under the plexiglass was a drawing of a shoe and a fedora and a handkerchief. At first I thought it was a study like the others, then I was struck by text on it which reads, “the day of my father’s death”.
I thought of the emotion that went behind this drawing on that particular day. I am not sure I could pick up a pencil on the day of my father’s death, much less draw his things. Drawing, for Deibenkorn, was a lot of things—and maybe tonic.
Article by Guest Author: Elizabeth Cody
Elizabeth Cody is a painter living and working in the San Francisco Bay area. Her paintings are loose and rhythmic. She says, “I speak with paint. My most recent interest is sound, rhythm and words as the subject for a painting.” Abstracting from live models and scenes, Beth’s works radiate physical energy with uninhibited applications of paint.
Her background is in the law and in addition to painting Beth currently works as a top level recruiter for experts in Intellectual Property cases. Beginning her academic career as a Comparative Literature major at Brown University Beth went on to earn a law degree from the University of San Francisco School of Law. This summer she will return to school as an MFA candidate at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.