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.”