15 October 2016

Jim Dine: The Multi-Colored Bathrobe

"The canvases are the size of me with my arms out." - Jim Dine to Constance Glenn, 1983.

I was standing in the art storage stacks at the museum the other evening along with my classmates as we looked at the largest woodblock print any of us had ever seen.   Jime Dine's Bathrobe may not be larger than life in a technical sense but it was larger than any bathrobe I have ever worn.

"Describe not the object itself, but the effect it produces," wrote the French poet Stephane Mallarme.   Nietzsche was the more direct when he famously declared "God is dead."  But it was Mallarme (1842-1898), in his guise as critic, who developed the idea of art as the replacement for religion.   You can love modern art and sidestep Nietzsche but you can't avoid Mallarme; his ideas are either illustrated or  refuted by countless artists who have come after.
Take the Abstract Expressionists, who denied there were any romantic elements in their works,  ignoring the emotional and spiritual elements viewers admired in their canvases.  Think of the shimmering layers that appear when you gaze for several minutes at a Mark Rothko painting.    Pop artists of the 1960s, whose cool appraisal of ordinary objects, seemed to sacralize them as much as satirize them confound Mallarme's discrete categories.  What of  artists who need to portray the object in order to get to the effect it has on them?

Jim Dine (b.1935)  was a young artist from the Midwest who first attracted attention in New York, the center of the postwar art world, in 1959 when he participated in several Happenings, a type of chaotic performance art that signaled a change of mood from  somber expressionism to something like bacchanalia, Dine has always said that drawing is, for him, the basis of all art, even his sculptures.  Eventually, he was no longer satisfied by what he saw as awkward and inept drawing by the Abstract Expressionists.   In the 1960s Dine fit in with Pop artists with his images of real life objects like hammers and paintbrushes; the difference was that, as Dine put it, the objects gave him "a vocabulary of feelings."

Dine began to use the bathrobe in 1964 as a form of self-portrait, and he has made dozens and dozens of them since.   Stretching a paper or canvas or, in this case, a piece of wood, to human size has underlined the intimacy he finds in this everyday garment.   Alan Solomon, an art historian, understood this when in 1967 he called Dine " a hot artist in a cool time."

This Bathrobe from 1982 is work of mixed media.  It is a fourteen color woodcut (you can count them for yourself,) with black paint used for the outline.  Standing next to Bathrobe I felt those black lines move on that rigid surface, like so many motions of putting on and taking off, the lineaments of a personal relationship. 

Jim Dine - Fourteen-color Bathrobe, 1982, Schaefer Art Galleries, Syracuse University, NY.


Tania said...

Thanks for multi-colored art !
Hope for multi-colored life !

Jane said...

Tania, when I stood next to the original, it was taller than I am.