Thursday, September 19, 2013

Richard Diebenkorn and Ingleside

Source: 1938 Aerial view of San Francisco, from the David Rumsey Map Collection

An earlier blog entry, "Richard Diebenkorn's San Francisco Childhood," noted that Richard Diebenkorn lived at two addresses in the Ingleside Terraces neighborhood of San Francisco.  First from around the ages of 9 to 11 he and his family lived on Cedro Way (the red X) and later from around the ages of 12 to 15 they lived on Moncada Way (the green X).

By the time that Diebenkorn embarked on a career as an artist in his twenties, he and his family had moved out of San Francisco.  During the late 1940s he continued living in Northern California in Sausalito and Oakland.  He returned to the Bay Area during the years 1953-1966 -- the time period of the current exhibit at the DeYoung Museum documenting Diebenkorn's Berkeley Years.

While he painted many California landscapes and many of his abstract works evoke the California landscape, he did very little San Francisco-themed work.  Hilton Kramer writes of Diebenkorn's style, calling it a "style that evoked, without explicitly depicting, an imagery drawn from the broad, sunny, open, uncluttered landscape of Northern California as it was ... in the late forties and early fifties."  Much of the San Francisco landscape might have been too crowded and cluttered for that aesthetic, with one exception it turns out, Diebenkorn's Ingleside (properly speaking Ingleside Terraces).!Large.jpg
Richard Diebenkorn, Ingleside (source: Wikipaintings)

Diebenkorn painted Ingleside in 1963 while living in Berkeley.  In choosing a location to paint, Diebenkorn once said that "clarity of light, space, spareness, expansiveness, contrast" mattered to him the most.  And he certainly found those qualities in his Ingleside landscape. 

Gerald Nordland writes that this painting is:
... a skillful projection of that residential subdivision in deep space, following a suburban street across three intersections and up a hill, with rows of houses on either side, reflecting strong mid-day light.  There are surprising incidents of color and telling touches of impasto white in the buildings which are set off by acres of steel-gray macadam.
Roads and sidewalks meander in unexpected ways forming both curves and straight lines.  Sidewalks frame blacktop, hills in the background contrast the flat land of the foreground.  Grass and trees trim the edges.  There are individual homes in toward the front and rows of less distinct houses on the distant hillside.
Image Number: SFP22-0110
The 200 block of Moncada Way ca. 1920, from the Willard E. Worden Glass Plate Negative Collection, in the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection

This historic photograph shows Moncada Way about 15 years before the Diebenkorns moved there (their house was later built in the open space at the lower-middle left side of the image).  This photo shows the potential space, spareness and contrast of an earlier time.

The website speculates that the scene shown in the Ingleside painting above would be from "Mercedes Way looking south from Paloma Avenue, with Merced Heights in the background."

It's not really possible to pinpoint a location that Diebenkorn was trying to depict, and in actuality it may have not been a distinct location at all.  In the book A Sense of Place: The Artist and The American Land Diebenkorn told about revisiting his old neighborhood to work on this artwork:
Visiting there thirty years later provided me with a peculiarly concentrated subject matter, one which represented much that I had rejected in intervening years but which at the same time referred largely to what I am. A sense of place was built into my use of this material. I made on-the-spot sketches that were very brief, finding that when I painted from them in my Berkeley studio the relevant detail filled in easily. The pictures that came out of this don't refer to specific streets and houses but I believe are very much about the place, Ingleside. 
Diebenkorn sought an ideal landscape from a setting familiar to him from his youth.  It is also worth noting what he chose to take from that landscape.  As the 1920s photograph shows, most of the houses in the neighborhood, particular in the vicinity of the Diebenkorn residences were in an ornate, wooden, craftsman style.  The foregrounded house in his painting are much sparer, white with orange-red adobe roofs.

The view of the neighborhood below from the corner of Corona Street and Urbano Drive includes some houses that are a little closer in style to those of the painting.  (Specifically, look at the houses on the left side of Corona Street - the street heading into the distance from left to right). 

Corner of Corona Street and Urbano Drive from Google Streetview

The view of Merced Heights in the distance is also clear here.  This ridge features a small dip similar to that of the painting between the Lakeview and Ashton Mini-Park at the left and Brooks Park at the right (behind the pole).  The houses in the background, lined up in a row going up the hillside only began to be constructed in the mid-1940s.  There could still have been bare, grassy spots into the 1960s.

Diebenkorn painted a second landscape in the neighborhood entitled Ingleside II.

Ingleside II (source: Christie's - the painting sold at auction on May 15, 2013)

Hilton Kramer has described this work as one of Diebenkorn's "most successful attempts at designing in deep, illusionistic space.  The pictorial reconstitution of the scene on the flat surface of the canvas is given priority over the painterly inflection of the surface itself."  This painting, like Ingleside, also features streets, sidewalks, lawns and a relative sparsity of dwellings.  The scene itself is reminiscent of the portion of the Ingleside Terraces neighborhood near Holloway Avenue shown below.

 Corner of Monticello Street and Holloway Avenue from Google Streetview

Diebenkorn discussed how the environment he worked from affected him approach to art:
My sense of place is involved with particular pictures and subjects whereas my present environment has to do in a more general way with light, coloring, and configuration.  I painted the Ingleside series in a very different environment (although it was at most fifteen miles distant) from Berkeley's.  Could I have painted Ingleside while working in Albuquerque or Los Angeles?  We can probably agree that the sources for painting are incredibly tangled and we had better hope they stay that way.
The Ingleside paintings reflect this "tangled" perspective on a place that would have been familiar and likely endowed with unique meaning to Diebenkorn.  The streets, houses and terrain of Ingleside Terraces under his brush retain recognizable features of the neighborhood, however he presents a sparer, purer vision than a fully developed and populated space would allow.  The Ingleside of his eye and his mind's eye provides a rich painterly space, and for those of us who know the neighborhood and gain a new outlook on this place.


Alan Gusow, A Sense of Place: The Artist and The American Land (Friends of the Earth, 1972).

Hilton Kramer, "Pure and Impure Diebenkorn," Arts Magazine (December 1963), 46-53.
RichardDiebenkorn: Paintings and Drawings, 1943-1976, with essays by Robert T. Buck, Jr., Gerald Nordland ... (Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1976).

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