Dine, James ("Jim")

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DINE, James ("Jim")

(b. 16 June 1935 in Cincinnati, Ohio), painter, sculptor, printmaker, performance artist, set designer, and poet who, more than any other artist, captured and popularized the dynamic trends in American avant-garde art in the 1960s.

The eldest of two sons of Stanley Cohen, who owned a paint store, and Eunice Cohen, a homemaker, Dine grew up intrigued by the colors and texture of paint in his father's store. At fifteen, following his mother's death, he went to live with his maternal grandparents. Dine called his grandfather Morris Cohen one of the "real influences" on his art because he owned a hardware store, where Dine became fascinated with objects such as tools, lawn mowers, sinks, and plumbing supplies that would play a critical role in his art.

In 1952 Dine entered the University of Cincinnati, but stayed only one year. After briefly attending the art school of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, he enrolled in the art department of Ohio University, receiving a B.F.A. in 1957. That same year he married Nancy Minto, whom he had met at Ohio State; they had three sons. After receiving his degree, Dine moved to Long Island, New York, where he taught art in a high school. He moved to New YorkCity itself in 1959, where he taught at a private high school located near the Museum of Modern Art, which he visited almost daily. He also met a number of younger artists, among them Claes Oldenburg and Red Grooms, who introduced him to the avant-garde art world that was emerging in downtown New York as a challenge to the dominant school of abstract expressionism.

Dine immediately gained public attention as one of the originators of the "happenings" movement. Happenings, a series of shows held in art galleries, represented an effort to bridge the gap between the visual and performing arts. Produced and directed by artists, happenings were marked by a minimum of dialogue and by sudden bursts of action, often quite irrational, after long spells of inactivity. Although many spectators found these performances boring and inexplicable, they drew considerable attention. Dine produced four happenings in 1959 and 1960, Car Crash (1960) being the most successful. After 1960 he gave up happenings (except for one that he created in 1965), claiming that the effort took time away from his painting, but happenings had made him a recognizable force in the New York art scene.

Greatly influenced by the work of Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, Dine's earliest paintings were designed to break the hold that abstract expressionism had on American art. Like Rauschenberg and Johns, Dine accomplished this by incorporating objects into his paintings. From his earliest exhibitions in 1958, objects took precedence in his work. By 1962 critics were calling his art "object paintings" because of the tools and articles of clothing that appeared in them. For example, Black Garden Tools (1962) featured real shovels and a rake hanging on a large painted canvas. As Dine later stated in an interview with Barbaralee Diamonstein in the late 1970s, he felt under "pressure to constantly be making something new, [to be] reacting against abstract expressionism."

The use of these domestic objects caused critics to label Dine a pop artist, since pop art also focused attention on everyday objects. Dine did share much with pop artists. One of his recurring themes was a series of "self-portraits" depicting a bathrobe shaped to his rather husky proportions. He got the idea from a newspaper advertisement, a source of many pop art paintings, but Dine denied that he was a pop artist. His concern with the texture and application of paint shared much with abstract expressionism. Also, pop artists used objects as objects; a soapbox was a box for soap, nothing more. But Dine's objects had autobiographical references; they meant something important to him. All Dine's work in the 1960s contained elements of this individuality. As he put it: "Pop is concerned with exteriors. I'm concerned with interiors. When I use objects I see them as a vocabulary of feelings." Thus there was a relationship between his art and the dominant existentialism of the period.

After 1962 Dine held a series of successful exhibitions in European cities—Milan (1962), Paris and Brussels (1963), and London (1965 and 1966). Although he continued to rework the same themes, he moved into other mediums. By the mid-1960s he was concentrating on sculpture, producing aluminum objects such as boots, hands, and axes, often in exaggerated forms. His Long Boot (1965), for instance, was almost ten feet high. Throughout the decade, Dine avoided depicting the human figure, although the London police confiscated some drawings from the 1966 exhibition on the ground that they were obscene. He also began to write poetry, and he designed sets and costumes for Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream and Oscar Wilde's Picture of Dorian Gray.

A short, stocky, balding man who once described himself as looking like a "Tartar," Dine had a marked impact on the art world of the 1960s. An outgoing, social person, he seemed to enjoy collaborative efforts with other artists. He did a series of lithographs with the poet Ron Padgett and numerous collages with the artist Eduardo Paolozzi, for example. In 1967 Dine moved to London, where he lived for four years. In this period he stopped painting for three years, devoting his energies to printmaking and poetry. In his interview with Diamonstein he admitted that he "was running out of these avant-garde ideas." When he resumed painting, he created his Name Painting (1969), a huge canvas on which he wrote out the names of everyone he ever knew, "except those I hated." He did so, he said, because "it would just be something no one had ever done."

In 1971 Dine returned to the United States, moving to Putney, Vermont, where he remained until 1985. Since then he has lived in New York and Connecticut. His influence faded in the post-1960s decades, in which he eschewed the use of objects and concentrated on refining his drawing and on making ceramics. As he candidly told Diamonstein, "I really did run out of gas. I could no longer face getting up in the morning and putting another object on a beautifully painted abstract ground."

Dine epitomized much of American art in the 1960s. In that decade his work contained elements of abstract expressionism, it reflected pop art's interest in the prosaic world of everyday objects, it was an expression of the existentialism so dominant among intellectuals in that period, and it symbolized the rebelliousness of young people challenging the status quo. Dine's popularity in the 1960s can be measured by the fact that he had thirty one-person shows and participated in almost fifty group exhibitions during the decade. In 1970 the Whitney Museum of American Art held a retrospective exhibition for him, although he was only thirty-five years old.

Lucy Lippard, Pop Art (1966), provides a contemporary view of the New York art world. Alan Solomon and Ugo Mulas, New York: The New Art Scene (1967), beautifully captures in text and photographs the avant-garde art world in which Dine played such a pivotal role. Barbaralee Diamonstein, Inside New York's Art World (1979), contains interviews with thirty leading figures in the 1960s art world, including Dine. Among the many exhibition catalogues of Dine's work, two of the most valuable are John Gordon, Jim Dine (1970), and Liesbeth Brandt Corstius, Jim Dine (1971).

Robert Hendrick