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Gone West

Richard Diebenkorn's work comes home with de Young and College of Marin shows, and two new locally published books



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"That's why I think that these books are so important," Arnold says, sitting over a cappuccino. "You don't need to see an original to get a spark. And that spark was something that really appealed to me. I was doing a lot of figure drawing at that time. Not that I patterned myself after him, though I did go through a Diebenkorn period in the late '70s, I have to say.

"After the Ocean Park series came out, I started to rethink lots of composition and my use of diagonal. It was born from a tremendous admiration for someone who was a lot more refined than I thought I would ever be. It's elegant, thoughtful, profound—transcendent."

Schneider adds, "I think it's a combination of really richly imaginative work, but it has a coherence to it, you know. Somehow, we can approach it. And," he shakes his head, "it's so damn handsome."

The works on paper held by the Diebenkorn Foundation are all digitized and include pieces perhaps no one has before seen, stuff hidden in drawers, scraps from the studio floor. After choosing the work, Arnold wrote a grant to have the works framed and readied for shipping.

But choosing the art was all the fun.

SELECTORS For two new books, Bart Schneider and Chester Arnold found themselves in the unusual position of cutting from Diebenkorn's vast unseen output. - NADAV SOROKER
  • Nadav Soroker
  • SELECTORS For two new books, Bart Schneider and Chester Arnold found themselves in the unusual position of cutting from Diebenkorn's vast unseen output.

"It was much easier than I had originally thought," Arnold says. "Visually, [Schneider and I are] very much on the same page. We just sat together at the computer, and in a few hours, we had done the first cut. The difficult thing for me to get my head wrapped around was, 'Here I am, sitting here, cutting Diebenkorn?'

"It's an embarrassment of riches," he laughs, "but someone had to do it. We tried to pick pieces that had some kind of unique spark to them or that were particularly good versions of all the different genres he was exploring from those early ink things to the collages with the cut-outs."

The College of Marin show will open just before the de Young show closes.

"In some ways, for purposes of clarity and appreciation, to see a small show like that of really beautiful drawings is a really unique way of appreciating what he did," Arnold says, "just as these books are, because they're closer in size to the actual work, and will start to feel closer to the real feeling that's coming off the work."

In his recent review of the de Young exhibit, San Francisco Chronicle art critic Kenneth Baker derides the show as having "the opposite of its intended effect of boosting the artist's stature," arguing that by focusing on Diebenkorn's Bay Area years, the museum gives yet another boost to the "cultural prejudice" in favor of New York and European artists.

The group at the cafe table just sighs.

"Do you call a mathematician from California a 'California mathematician?'" Schneider quips.

Arnold, who was raised in Germany but has long resided in California, has surely felt the sting of this "cultural prejudice" before. He takes the long view.

"It's only New Yorkers who have to do that; they build a fortress around themselves," he says calmly.

"I always characterize California artists as being the weeds in the garden with deep tap roots, and the New York artists as being the orchids in the hothouse. They're expensive, they take a lot of high maintenance, and, after all the dust settles, we're still here and we're still grounded, pulling out the foxtails."

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