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Offshore Diebenkorn

Courtesy Santa Cruz Island Foundation

SHADES: Santa Cruz Island beach umbrellas, in art and life.

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By Jack Fischer

In 1940 Richard Diebenkorn’s fame was so far in the future that friends like Carey Stanton, a premed student from a prominent family in Los Angeles, nicknamed him “Witz” for the time when someone introduced the fledgling painter as “Diebowitz.” Indeed, “Witz” was how California’s most renowned postwar artist signed his letters to physician Stanton during their 47-year friendship.

An enduring legacy of that friendship—nearly 40 small Diebenkorn paintings, drawings and prints from the collection of Stanton, ’44, MD ’47—will be displayed at the Cantor Arts Center from July 23 through November 9. The show is the first in a year’s worth of Stanford-centric exhibits to mark the 10th anniversary of the museum’s reopening after the Loma Prieta earthquake.

“Richard Diebenkorn, Artist, and Carey Stanton, Collector: Their Stanford Connection” turns largely on the two friends’ meetings at Santa Cruz Island. Stanton’s parents had purchased the island—the largest of the Channel Islands in Southern California and a working cattle ranch—in 1937, which itself speaks volumes about how life in California was different then. Through the decades, Diebenkorn, ’44, and his wife, Phyllis, ’42, and later their children, visited Stanton on the island several times a year.

The works Diebenkorn made for his Delta Kappa Epsilon brother, as well as those Stanton bought, are more conservative than either his Bay Area Figurative work or the abstraction of the Ocean Park series. These loose, brushy landscapes and seascapes—and the occasional portrait or still life—are drenched in languid light and grounded in prosaic island life.

As Diebenkorn became better and better known in the art world, his friend seemed to move in the other direction. Stanton left his medical career in 1957 to move to the island. He and ranch manager Henry Duffield, hired in 1960, tended cattle herds until their deaths in the mid-1980s. The 96-square-mile island is now owned by the The Nature Conservancy and Channel Islands National Park.

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