California Chromatics 

The St. Louis Art Museum colors your world with works by two West Coast painters

This summer, treat yourself with a visit to the St. Louis Art Museum to see Diebenkorn/Thiebaud: Works on Paper, a small but impressive exhibit of works that ooze the colors and clarity of California sunshine. Richard Diebenkorn's art came of age in the light of Berkeley, California (he was associated with the Bay Area Figurative group in the 1950s and '60s); Wayne Thiebaud spent the 1960s and 1970s teaching at the University of California-Davis and was considered a pop artist in the movement's early years. Thiebaud describes Diebenkorn as one of his influences.

Viewing works by both artists together allows for an assessment of what they share. Both have a profound sense of color, achieving at turns bold or breezy effects in oil, pastel or ink. Both artists maintain a strong consideration of formal structure. Diebenkorn's abstract works are practically architectural in their emphasis on lines, planes and fields. Even Thiebaud's luscious images of food (cakes, pies, suckers) are as much about visual organization as they are about anything else.

Highlights in this exhibit include Thiebaud's "Pastels" (1972), with its raking light and stiff shadows. One of Thiebaud's dizzying San Francisco landscapes is also on view, inviting irresistible comparison with a Diebenkorn work such as "Blue" (1984; pictured), a woodcut shot through with crisp, crystal color. Other Diebenkorn pieces include one of the artist's "club" images, a black-and-white abstract work, and one figurative portrait.

Assistant curator Phillip Prodger carefully selected the individual works from the museum's collection. "This exhibition covers many bases," he explains. "It will give people a sense of the range of work that these two artists do." Diebenkorn died in 1993, and he and Thiebaud never collaborated. But their works are infused by common concerns that are clearly reflected in this compact exhibit.

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