Richard Diebenkorn was born on April 22, 1922, in Portland, Oregon. He entered Stanford University in 1940, where he studied fine arts and art history. During World War II, Diebenkorn enlisted in the Marines, and the locations of his postings allowed him to visit important collections of modern art in Europe. In this way he formed an international style, absorbing diverse influences, from Paul Klee and Joan Miró to Julio González, Kurt Schwitters, and Mark Rothko, evident in the abstract watercolor paintings he made at this time.
In 1946 Diebenkorn returned to San Francisco and studied at the California School of Fine Arts, where he met contemporaries such as David Park, who would become a major influence. While on scholarship for a year in New York, he met William Baziotes and Bradley Walker Tomlin, whose influence, along with that of Picasso, was also decisive at this time. After returning to San Francisco, Diebenkorn taught at the California School of Fine Arts. His so-called Sausalito period took shape during these years, and other periods would follow, mostly taking the name of the city in which they were realized: the Albuquerque period (1950–52, his first mature period), Urban period (1952–53), and Berkeley period (1953–55). Diebenkorn then broke with abstraction, depicting landscapes, figures, and still lifes. This lasted until 1965, when he began a new figurative cycle. With the 1967 work Ocean Park, he returned definitively to abstraction and a pictorial language that developed through the end of his life.
Diebenkorn had his first show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco 1948. The first important retrospective of his work took place at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York, in 1976–77; the show then traveled to Washington, D.C., Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and Oakland. In 1989 John Elderfield, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, organized a show of Diebenkorn’s works on paper, which constituted an important part of his production. Diebenkorn died on March 30, 1993, in Berkeley, California.