Amuse: How Matisse Influenced Californian Art

I wrote this for Amuse (VICE’s new online travel magazine) after a visit to San Francisco. If you have a chance to go see the new SFMOMA exhibition, go! Have a read here or here:

Matisse’s paintings were first introduced to San Francisco in 1906 and his work was showcased frequently in LA, where Californian artist Richard Diebenkorn first saw it in 1952. Interior at Nice (1919) made a huge impact on his work, prompting a new use of colour and geometric structure.

A new exhibition at SFMOMA compares the two artists, illustrating how their styles merged, particularly when depicting their home cities. The 100 pieces take you on a journey through rising fandom, highlighting Diebenkorn’s vulnerability and self-doubt as an artist burdened by his deep obsession with his hero.

Diebenkorn applied Matisse’s European abstract techniques to his own paintings of Californian life in Berkley, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. The results were brighter palettes and light-filled abstract compositions, drawing parallels between the creamy sunlight of LA and the pastel hues of Parisian streets.

Later in his career after studying Matisse’s representational work, Diebenkorn switched from abstraction towards more identifiable subject matter, including still life, interiors, figural works and city scenes inspired by Matisse’s Notre-Dame (1902) and A Late Afternoon (1902). Whilst in the midst of this challenging period, Diebenkorn felt inept and admitted he believed – in hindsight – his abstract work was a “cop out.”

The pieces in Matisse/Diebenkorn complement each other effortlessly and the exhibition provides an insight into the crippling effects of an artist’s inferiority complex. This delicate study of idol and idoliser is a must-see in San Francisco this spring.

Matisse/Diebenkorn runs until 29th May at SFMOMA.

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