Jim Dine: People, Places, Things

June 26 - October 25, 2015

This exhibit explores three themes that have preoccupied Jim Dine from his earliest art-making endeavors. From portraits and nudes; to gardens and flowers; to tools, hearts, and robes; and even to his fascination with Pinocchio, Dine imbues everyday subjects with emotional and aesthetic tension. The commonplace becomes extraordinary in this celebrated artist’s hands.

Together with his well-known bold depictions of domestic objects, Dine’s significant body of flowers, portraits, and nudes allows an understanding of his range of expressive means and media. He is an accomplished painter, draftsman, printmaker, and sculptor. Created by a man captivated by the images and symbols of everyday life, Dine’s work celebrates both the prosaic and the poetic, never privileging one over the other.

Dine first attracted attention in the New York art world as one of the aspiring young artists creating “Happenings” in the early 1960s. A wild, anarchic mix of improvisatory performance and studio practice, Happenings were intended to claim the physicality of action painting and reject the view that abstraction was ultimate. They began the break from the reigning concerns of the established New York City art world and presaged the social upheavals of the late ’60s.

Because Dine’s earliest exhibited paintings were of tools—thoroughly pedestrian, everyday objects—he has often been classified as a Pop artist. But neither he nor his work maintains the cool, ironic stance of Pop. His choice of content is not a comment on “low” versus “high” or “commercial” versus “fine”—he is painting what he knows. His grandfather owned a hardware store where he spent much of his time as a youth, and for Dine, a man who knows how to work with his hands, tools are personal.

The most remarkable feature of any Dine piece is its energy. The heart, a simple graphic that every child learns to draw, is for Dine a fundamental icon. He uses it to play with color, gesture, texture, scale, rhythm. The heart is already rich in metaphorical associations. Dine’s artistic choices suggest additional layers of meaning and evoke strong visceral and emotional responses. His hearts are not valentines; they are pulsing, vigorous, muscular expressions of the life force. For Dine the heart is “a template for all my emotions… a landscape for everything. It’s like Indian classical music—based on something very simple but building to a complicated structure. Within that you can do anything in the world.”

An empty bathrobe is another of Dine’s iconic images. Clothing is perhaps the most personal, external means we have of establishing identity and image. The bathrobe—intimate at-home wear—provides the structure on which Dine hangs investigations of his creative, physical, emotional, or psychological concerns. Each different expressive depiction offers rich interpretive possibilities. His original source material was an illustration of a bathrobe in a newspaper ad. Something about its bulk resonated as a vehicle for self-portraiture, and this “thing” became a stand-in for a person—Dine himself.

From 1971 through 1985 Dine lived and worked in Putney, Vermont, focusing intensely on his rendering skills and printmaking. Drawing from life, he found inspiration in Vermont’s gardens and vegetation. He also began a rigorous practice of figure drawing with live models. The botanical images from this period, along with his “Nancy Outside in July” etchings and his “Jessie” drawings, chart his growth as a draftsman and printmaker from accomplished to virtuosic.

In the 1990s Pinocchio, the wooden puppet created by Geppetto the toymaker, who longs to be a real boy, became another recurring subject for Dine. He recalls that having seen the Disney movie when he was six, he was “very frightened by it, enchanted by it. And I identify with it. I was a liar, little boys are liars.” Dine continues to interpret Pinocchio, though his emotional relationship to the puppet fashioned from a block of wood who later comes to life has changed. “All the time I was identifying with the boy, but now… it’s a metaphor for art, this old man brings the puppet to consciousness through his craft, and in the end I am Geppetto, I am no longer Pinocchio.”*

— Mara Williams, Chief Curator

* Quotations above are from “Lone Wolf,” an interview with Jim Dine by Ilka Skobie (www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/scobie/jim-dine6-28-10.asp) for artnet.

This exhibit is generously sponsored by The Putney School.

All work in the exhibit is on loan from PACE Gallery and private collectors.

This exhibit would not have been possible without the generous assistance of Peter Boris, Mina Juhn, Raina Mehler, and Tim Strazza of PACE Gallery, New York; the Essunger family, John Ewald, John and Carin Labine, Deborah Holway Shumlin, Jeff Shumlin and Evie Lovett, Kitty Shumlin, and Peter Shumlin.