Jim Dine’s drawings are a feast for eyes in Allen
Defying its banal title, the Allen Art Museum’s exhibit “Jim Dine: Some Drawings” presents eighty works that are striking and sometimes scary in their intensity. The exhibit, on display until July 17 in the Ellen Johnson Gallery, marks the 40th anniversary of Dine’s residency at Oberlin.
Dine’s drawings explore various subjects — they include both abstract and realistic works, portraits and self-portraits, pieces inspired by works of art and pieces inspired by the artist’s personal memories. The show does an excellent job of giving the viewer a sense of the artist’s voice and vision. Dine’s thoughts on his work and process are displayed on placards throughout the exhibit, and the show includes a twenty-eight minute video documenting eight days during which Dine drew on the walls of the Ludwigsburg Kunstverein, an exhibition space in Germany. In the video, Dine discusses his process, where he gets his ideas and the goals of his artwork.
Best known for his painting, Dine utilizes various media in his drawings, including watercolor, pastel and shellac. The most frequently used medium is charcoal, and Dine demonstrates this material’s plasticity by blending certain lines to make them disappear. The video shows Dine obsessively working and re-working his lines. In “Portrait of Chuck Close,” the top of the subject’s head blends into the white space above it, a space left white amidst the dark areas surrounding the figure. This partial erasing of the line calls attention to the subject’s head and makes it seem as if white light, or some sort of divine knowledge, is entering him.
“Portrait of Chuck Close” is also an example of how Dine let his drawings grow as he explored the potential of his subject. In many of Dine’s portraits, overlapping pieces of paper are glued together to make pieces bigger. Dine said of “Portrait of Chuck Close,” “When I started to draw him, I thought ‘I’ll just do his head,’ but then I could not ignore his body...so I had to allow the drawing to move and grow.”
One aspect of drawing that appeals to Dine is the fragility of the paper. In many pieces, Dine tears the paper to make holes, sometimes pasting the torn pieces into other areas of the picture. Dine said of this technique, “The depiction of physical energy on the paper and the disturbing of the paper’s surface are other ways to bring the drawing to life.” In other pieces, he pastes or sews separate papers together to form a whole work.
Dine also plays with the ability of color to evoke strong emotional reactions. In a series of six paintings entitled “Childhood,” Dine seems to record memories on paper initially coated in an urgent red. This abstract series sucks the viewer in, as its blood-like color solicits a visceral reaction. In many pieces Dine uses warm and cool colors that bounce off each other, bringing works to life for the viewer.
Dine, associated with the pop art movement and modern art greats like Claes Oldenburg, explains his turn from realism to abstraction in one wall quote: “Before, I [laid] down everything in a realistic way, but now, I have less patience for realism. My heart is too full. I need to release more emotion...”
This exhibit offers a thorough introduction to the work of a major modern
artist. The show opens with several self-portraits, confronting the viewer with
Dine’s penetrating, head-on gaze. His half-frown and obsessive, searching
eyes urge viewers to take him seriously by evoking the dedication he brings to
his work. Dine’s gaze alone announces that whoever misses this show
misses a glimpse into the life and work of one of this century’s most