Diebenkorn had his first one-person show in 1948 at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. After receiving a degree from Stanford University in 1949, he was awarded an M.F.A. from the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque in 1951. He briefly taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana 1952-53, settling shortly thereafter in Berkeley, California. Diebenkorn often titled his works after places that provided him with inspiration, such as his Berkeley paintings. Throughout the 1940s and early 1950s, Diebenkorn followed a distinctive abstract vocabulary of forms, stylistically rooted in the New York School, placing him firmly within the ethos of American modernism. However, in 1955 he shifted from abstraction to a more representational mode, making reference to observed subjects. Until 1967, when he returned to abstraction, Diebenkorn executed still-lifes, landscapes and interior figure paintings that present his finely tuned sense of color and structure.
From 1955 to 1973 Diebenkorn taught at several California arts institutions, including a position at UCLA (1967) while he worked in a studio in the Ocean Park district of Santa Monica. There he created his last representational works, but returned to abstraction with his Ocean Park paintings. This series is characterized by broadly brushed surfaces of luminescent and atmospheric color, affirming the artist’s continuing concern with formal issues. These abstract brilliantly colored works—both paintings and drawings—elicited great acclaim, and The Phillips Collection owns three works from this series. Diebenkorn remained a prolific artist until his death in Berkeley, California, in 1993.