KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 11: Spring 2019
Tanka Prose:
591 words

Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park #109 (1978)

by Charles D. Tarlton

Ocean Park #109: painting by Richard Diebenkorn
Ocean Park #109 (1978)1
Oil on canvas painting (101"x77")
Copyrighted © by The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation

Derive happiness in oneself from a good day’s work, from illuminating the fog that surrounds us.

—[Attributed to] Henri Matisse

I was going to say again it doesn’t “mean” anything. Here’s what I mean. The boy comes on in Godot to represent—what? Hope? Despair? Betrayal? The answer: Nothing, same old, same old. They wait and wait (and wait?) for Godot; meaning would have put an end on it, or, rather, had meaning been inserted it could have come to an end. Whatever the painter was originally intending here, the final version struggles only to become its own impenetrable blank unbesmirched canvas—“ must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” [*] We can see down into this one, faintly, deeper and deeper. Paint, cover up, rub out, paint again, cover up, rub out, paint....

maybe nothing is
the meaning. The paint being inert
goes where you put it
maybe meaning is like rain 
washing out a cistern

speaking in silence
writing in water on dry sand
playing on synaptic
vesicles in sleeping brains
he winks defiantly

The real difficulty here is this: every feature of this painting is exactly the sort of thing that indicates meaning! Deliberate lines drawn, crossing over, intersecting to make shapes, shadow-shapes, and wisps. There is a record here, of the painter’s passage, where he stood, where he bent and reached, whether he held a brush, a knife, a turpentine rag. And then he stopped. Are we supposed to go on then by ourselves, pick up the scent, and see it through?

it leads nowhere
giving us the clearest picture
of what’s not-present
what this picture is a picture of
we feel it in a tingle

it’s like all the paintings
ever painted, layered on 
layers, each layer blurred
to make way for the next one’s
serial maculation

In school I learned some of the formalities of Euclidean geometry, how the angle antagonizes rectilinear intentions, or when they are piled up in heaps then rearranged, you can build forms out of triangle, square, and trapezoid. And this: while parallel lines will never meet, in that same tautological world non-parallel lines meet only once, but more often in this pale palimpsest.

a window opened
and blinding sunlight flooded 
straight into your eye
it drowned the possibility 
of sight or blindness

a dingy canvas thrown 
over memories of stacked sticks
like the skeletons of pup tents
in rows at the hot sandy shore
the underside of dazzle

At a crucial juncture in the action of the work, just when the painter erred, he reached over with a large paintbrush (was this the initiating gesture? the place where he found traction?) and a coffee can of beige wash to cover his gaucheries so he could start again. When the muddy cover dried, the earlier mistakes still showed through, spidery and faint. But now so altered, still he loved them, searching in their smoky depths, listening to their whispered song.

the point of this one
is erasure (nothing’s left
of any patterns 
but their faint pastel shadows)
subterranean silhouettes

the way a bad dream
stabs at you, and you wake
with the horror still real
but in an hour has gone beneath
a soothing pale oblivion


a spectator’s art
is embodied, then effaced
what is going on?
the eyes of the aesthete
fear they have arrived too late

the spectators are late
roaming now in muted ruins
free to make their own
art, dream down through tissued layers
whatever they can find



* Publisher’s Notes:

1. “ must go on...” is excerpted from the last chapter of Samuel Beckett’s novel, The Unnamable.

2. Ocean Park #109 (1978) (oil and charcoal on canvas, 101"x77") by Richard Diebenkorn appears above with kind permission from The Richard Diebenkorn Foundation.

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