Richard Diebenkorn: Three Prints

Richard Diebenkorn made his first etchings at Crown Point Press in 1962, the year Kathan Brown founded the press. Between 1962 and 1965 he created the portfolio 41 Etchings Drypoints, and later, beginning in 1977, he spent a week or two in the Crown Point studio nearly every year until his death in 1993.


In this Viewing Room, we highlight three black and white aquatints that Diebenkorn made near the end of his life: Flotsam, The Barbarian and The Barbarian’s Garden-Threatened. These three prints share symbols and marks that the artist used throughout his career. Though the works are essentially abstract, there are figurative narratives interspersed.


During a 1991 work period in the Crown Point studio, Diebenkorn created the color aquatint Touched Red, and the black and white image titled Flotsam. At the same time, he began work on two more plates which would end up as The Barbarian and The Barbarian’s Garden-Threatened, both dated 1992.  As in Flotsam, the marks and symbols that float throughout the images are the this-and-that of life. 


The Barbarian and The Barbarian’s Garden-Threatened relate to Flotsam, although the black used in them is denser and more opaque. The abstract figures in all three aquatints crowd around the edges while the centers remain nearly empty. There is something more urgent happening in these two prints than in Flotsam—a more forceful determination is on display. As in Diebenkorn’s 1991 project, when he worked  on both a color etching and a black and white one, in 1992 he created two beautiful colorful prints, High Green, Version I and High Green, Version II, along with The Barbarian and The Barbarian’s Garden-Threatened. The color prints are in striking juxtaposition to the black and white images. They demonstrate that Diebenkorn was not an artist pinned down to one thing at one time.


Richard Diebenkorn said, “What I want is to be doing something, not making something.” If you spend some time looking at these three prints, you can see that the “doing” of his art-making is clearly shown.