Alternate Realities: Altoon, Diebenkorn, Lobdell, Woelffer
Abstract expressionism is an innovation closely associated with art of the mid-20th century, a period when new gestural methods of painting rendered even the artist’s brush obsolete. Yet many proponents of this movement did not reject representation outright. Instead they forged a productive dialogue between the two modes, incorporating references to recognizable imagery and emphasizing the artist’s own process as an alternate approach to realistic depiction.
Alternate Realities focuses on four groundbreaking painters who were active in Los Angeles or the Bay Area in the 1950s and 1960s and who deployed figuration in an otherwise abstract vocabulary. John Altoon (1925–1969), a trained illustrator, developed idiosyncratic arrangements that allude to body parts, organic objects, even a pair of striped pants, while refusing to cohere into legible narratives. His Ocean Park Series #8 (1962), named for the neighborhood in Santa Monica near where the artist lived and worked, distills traditional landscape painting into its base elements to evoke a vivid sense of place. Short, parallel strokes of yellow and brown paint convey powerful rays of sunshine, while a playful spade-like form conjures a crashing wave throwing off drips of blue paint. Along the lower margin, a green shape suggestive of a cactus stretches upward behind horizontal bands of sandy brown pigment, perhaps an allusion to a fence or a well-trodden path. By excising the connective tissue of a background, Altoon’s landscape floats free as if hovering on the surface of the canvas, hinting at visceral associations with warm sun and refreshing spray rather than depicting them outright.
Richard Diebenkorn (1922–1993) produced richly colored, nonrepresentational pictures for nearly a decade before turning to still lifes, interiors and figure studies in the mid-1950s. The artist’s long-standing fascination with color relationships is evident in an early sketchbook, now disassembled, and probably made around 1950. Several of the sheets are painted vigorously on the front and back with gouache and watercolor, creating a graphic equivalent to stained glass, with bright fields of yellow, red, orange and purple bordered by winding black lines. Bottles, painted in 1960, reveals Diebenkorn extending these principles into representational space, with the recognizable forms of a translucent glass bottle, opaque ink jar and other items perched on the tipped-up surface of a table comprised of loosely rendered planes of blue, turquoise and lavender. SHOW MORE