Richard Diebenkorn, Royal Academy, review: ‘a blast of fresh air’

And that, paradoxically, is a huge problem for an abstract artist. In the first gallery of this show, the difference between one picture and another comes down to different arrangements of shape and colour. Berkeley #5, for instance, feels like a jigsaw puzzle. I do not minimise the skill it took to create its seamless pattern of blue, purple and dark green shapes, but can’t see how it differs in atmosphere or tempo from the pictures on either side of it. As Diebenkorn himself succinctly said, “I could do too much too easily. There was nothing hard to come up against.”

In 1956, he began painting representational pictures of city streets, models posed in the studio and – sensationally – a series of luscious, thickly painted still lifes that at a stroke drew him back from the formless ether of abstraction to the beauty of a world where

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