American painter, best known for his intensely colored abstract paintings based on California landscapes. Diebenkorn was born in Portland, Oregon, and raised in San Francisco, California. He studied art at Stanford University from 1940 to 1943 and then entered the California School of Fine Arts in Oakland, California, in 1946. Two of the school's instructors, Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko, had a significant influence on local artists, introducing them to the East Coast movement of abstract expressionism. Diebenkorn's early abstractions, with their emphasis on color and composition, show this influence. Diebenkorn himself had joined the faculty by 1947, but in 1949 he left to study at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, where he received an M.F.A degree in 1951.
During the following two years, Diebenkorn spent brief periods at the University of Illinois at Urbana and in New York City, where he made sufficient connections in the art community to be included in the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum's 1954 exhibition, Younger American Painters. Diebenkorn returned to the San Francisco Bay area in 1953 and began his Berkeley paintings, a large series of semiabstract oil paintings based on local topography.
Diebenkorn began painting representational works about 1955. He became part of a West Coast movement known as the Bay Area Figurative School, which incorporated the expressive brushwork, innovative compositions, and vivid colors characteristic of abstract expressionism into art that no longer excluded recognizable subject matter.
After accepting a position at the University of California, Los Angeles, and moving to Santa Monica, Diebenkorn returned to abstraction in 1967. He began his most renowned series, Ocean Park, monumental, abstract meditations on the ocean, sky, and land near his home, which occupied him for the rest of his life. He divided large rectangular canvases into geometric planes of soft, light-drenched colors. Multiple layers of lines and planes show through the complex surfaces, creating an informal yet intense quality that defies the simple geometry of the works.