Jim Dine – The Experimentalist
Jim Dine – Aldo at Pere Lachaise
Many artists are happy becoming an important name in a single medium. Entire lives have been dedicated to the practice of one discipline — like painting or sculpture. But for other, more restless souls, an artistic life is about chasing down the next horizon, exploring new vistas and terrains for inspiration and expression.
Jim Dine is one of these restless explorers. For more than 60 years, his career never stayed in a single place for very long. He’s painted and sculpted, sure, but he’s also made prints, photographed, hosted happenings, made assemblages and written poetry.
“I’m not a Pop artist. I’m not part of the movement because I’m too subjective. Pop is concerned with exteriors. I’m concerned with interiors. When I use objects, I see them as a vocabulary of feelings. …What I try to do in my work is explore myself in physical terms—to explain something in terms of my own sensibilities.”
In all that exploration, he helped contribute to and define many major movements in the art world — from Abstract Expressionism, Neo-Dada, to Pop Art and beyond…
It is an extraordinary career, one worth celebrating.
Dine was born in 1935 in Cincinnati, Ohio. By the age of 16, he was already studying art at night courses. He found woodcuts to be fascinating in those early years of his artistic training, and he experimented with them in his grandmother’s basement.
He eventually made his way to Ohio University where he studied printmaking under Donald Roberts. He took several months away to study at the the School of Fine Arts at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston under Expressionist artist Ture Bengtz.
After graduation, he moved to New York City where he initially taught at the Rhodes School when his career began to take off.
Performance + Installations
In those early days in NYC, he co-founded a gallery in Greenwich Village with Claes Oldenburg and Marcus Ratliff. This opened him up to a circle of other creators interested in creating immersive art experiences. The atmosphere pushed him to host several unique art happenings and create many performance art pieces.
His work at this time ranged from creating a chaos of lights and sound, as in Car Crash (1960), to making thoughtful installations that viewers could engage in on their own terms, as in The House (1960).
Dine’s early experiments with printmaking continued throughout his career, and they took off in the 60s. He went on to produce thousands of fine art prints, many of which are held in major public and private collections.
Across this prolific output, Dine’s experimented with a variety of printing techniques, including gravure, intaglio, woodcuts, letterpress, linocuts, etchings and lithographs. The sheer scope of his output further underscores his commitment to trying new things all the time.
It is with these prints and his paintings of the time that he started to find the motifs that would follow him throughout the rest of his career.
Dine frequently returns to a few core images, most famously the heart, but also Pinocchio, tools, bathrobes, antiques and sculpture.
“I never stopped being enchanted by these objects.” — Jim Dine
Though he returns to them always in new ways, they have provided the stability in his career that mediums could not. In a way, they ground him and provide something familiar for Dine and his audience to relate to when in new territory.
A Legacy of Exploration
From his grandmother’s basement to the top of the art world, Dine never stopped exploring. His artwork retains many similar features across his oeuvre — often colorful and playful, though at times cerebral.
By daring to try new things, Dine has remained relevant and at the forefront of the avant-garde for decades. And that’s because his spirit of discovery is as forceful today as it was when he first began showing his work in the 50s.