American artist Jim Dine is celebrated for his fusion of a Pop sensibility into a language of expression and emotion, creating a distinct and powerful oeuvre. Considered by many a “modern individualist,” Dine’s wit and creativity mark all his work, some 3,000 paintings, drawings, sculptures, and prints, in additional to his more ephemeral pieces, such as performances and stage set designs. Another abiding theme that characterizes Dine’s work is his commitment to exploring the same motif in different genres over many years. Humanizing his work, and differentiating it from many of his fellow Pop artists, Dine invested everyday items with personal significance; a bathrobe inspired by a newspaper advertisement became a symbol for the artist himself; palettes and brushes referred to the artist’s trade.
Born in Cincinnati, to second-generation Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, the young Dine fondly recalls trips to the Cincinnati Art Museum; there, works by local artists Frank Duveneck and John Henry Twachtman captivated Dine, as well as the art of trompe l’oeil masters John Peto and William Harnett.
In 1948, Dine began to take art classes at the studio of local artist Vincent Taylor, and in high school, he attended evening classes at the Art Academy of Cincinnati. After initially enrolling at the University of Cincinnati, Dine pursued a bachelor’s in fine arts degree at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. After moving to New York in 1958 with his new bride, Nancy Minto, Dine made a living teaching high school art classes.
Dine’s first momentous exposure to the New York art world came in 1959, when he, along with Claes Oldenburg and Marc Racliff, opened the Judson Gallery in the Judson Memorial Church with a group exhibition. That same year he joined the Reuben Gallery, which also showed the work of Red Grooms, Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal.
In 1960, Dine established himself as an important creator of Happenings, such as Smiling Workman, The Vaudeville Show, and Car Crash; these performances drew on personal events, found materials, and a sense of collaboration shared by others, such as Kaprow and Oldenburg. Although Kaprow espoused a rejection of painting and a return to everyday life, Dine thought of these Happenings as “a kind of ‘painter’s theater’,” and they had the unanticipated result of encouraging the artist’s studio practice. (1)
These Happenings were an important early moment for the artist. Throughout his career, Dine maintained in his sculptures and paintings a sense of the aesthetic which characterized the Happenings: a willingness to use everyday, sometimes “junk,” materials and to engage with popular culture in a humorous and also serious way. Between 1960 and 1966, Dine received five solo exhibitions in New York (at the Reuben, Martha Jackson, and Sidney Janis galleries) and participated in numerous group show, including the important New Realists held at Sidney Janis Gallery in 1962. Art critic Harold Rosenberg announced that the New Realists exhibition “hit the New York art world with the force of an earthquake.” (2)
The Janis exhibition signaled a major shift in the American art world; Janis had been a promoter of Abstract Expressionism, and frequently showed the work of Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, and Philip Guston. These artists felt the dealer had taken sides in favor of the new phenomenon, Pop Art, and following the critical and
popular appeal of the New Realists exhibition, all of the Abstract Expressionists Janis represented (except de Kooning) left the dealer. As art historian David Bourdon explained, the New Realists show was “the apotheosis of the emerging Pop tendency [and]…the most provocative art event of the season, marking one of the most divisive moments in the history of the New York art world.” (3)
The critical force of the Pop-Abstract Expressionist divide had lasting effects for Dine. Like many of his colleagues, such as Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and Claes Oldenburg, Dine did not repudiate Abstract Expressionism. Instead, he fused an expressive sensibility with a commitment to presenting recognizable objects, creating an inimitable style. In a 1963 interview, “What is Pop Art,” Dine explained his position:
“I don’t believe there was a sharp break and this [Pop Art] is replacing Abstract Expressionism. Pop art is only one facet of my work. More than popular images I’m interested in personal images…I tie myself to Abstract Expressionism like fathers and sons.” (4)
Along with hearts, skulls became a preferred motif of the artist; in many works, he combined the imagery of love and death, creating touching and sometimes personal works, such as The Death at South Kensington (October), from 1983, honoring the death of his friend Rory McEwen. Another theme the artist adopted in later works was the archetypal Hellenistic sculpture, Venus De Milo, which like the skull, served as an attribute of the artist’s studio.
In the 1980s, Dine was championed as a forerunner in the Neo-Expressionist movement, which celebrated a return to individualized, gestural, and expressive painting after several decades of more ephemeral media, such as performance and Conceptual art. A prolific artist, Dine has also never been content to remain in one place for long. Constantly traveling, he has moved repeatedly in order to seek inspiration from different environments and learn from new challenges. In particular, he has sought out new printshops and foundries to continue evolving his work and developing new techniques.
Nonetheless, throughout the years he maintained a studio; from 1958to 1968 in New York, from 1967 to 1971 in London; from 1971 to 1985 in Putney, Vermont, and from 1986 to the present in New York and Washington, Connecticut. His work appears in major collections across the United States and abroad, and he has been honored with several prizes and admissions to prestigious art societies, such as the American Academy and Institute of Art and Letters, New York, and the Akademie der Kunste, Berlin.
1. Quoted in Jim Dine: Paintings, Drawings, Sculpture, exh. cat. (New York: The Pace Gallery, 1986), 3.
2. Quoted in Jean E. Fineberg, Jim Dine (New York: Abbeville Press, 1995), 17.
3. Quoted in Fineberg, Jim Dine, 18.
4. Quoted in Fineberg, Jim Dine, 19.
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