New York

Jim Dine, Late Last Summer, the Rue Madame, 2015, acrylic and sand on wood, 79 7⁄8 × 60 5⁄8". From the series “The Black Paintings,” 2015.

Jim Dine, Late Last Summer, the Rue Madame, 2015, acrylic and sand on wood, 79 7⁄8 × 60 5⁄8". From
the series “The Black Paintings,” 2015.

Jim Dine

Jim Dine, Late Last Summer, the Rue Madame, 2015, acrylic and sand on wood, 79 7⁄8 × 60 5⁄8". From the series “The Black Paintings,” 2015.

Pop art provocateur Jim Dine is renowned for humorous works such as The Technicolor Heart (The Big One), 2004—an outdoor sculpture of the titular organ rendered in a queasy blue and embedded with sundry things (including hammers, hatchets, and hands) in a rainbow of colors—and Walking to Bora˚s, 2008, a Brobdingnagian outdoor statue of Pinocchio, located in Sweden. But in 2010, the artist suddenly changed course and began making abstractions. The “Black Paintings” series, 2015, which were on view at Richard Gray Gallery, came out of this shift. As Dine has declared, the images are “painting about paint,” and also seem more vulnerable, human. Black is death and disaster, the dark night of the soul. His bold, slashing, and furious brushstrokes seem fraught with a deep sense of loss. Eunice is Gone, a painting named after his mother, suggested with its aphotic forms eaten alive by a torrent of desiccated greens, oranges, and yellows that he is angrily mourning her passing. It calls to mind poet Dylan Thomas’s famous words, “Do not go gentle into that good night, / Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Dine was about eighty years old when he started making these crepuscular paintings, perhaps in awareness of his own impending demise. The coarse textures in many of these pieces, which the artist created by mixing sand and charcoal with acrylic—reminded one of the merciless dirt of the grave. The exception was Late Last Summer, the Rue Madame, a panel overpowered by a libidinous, crackling red. Is it an allusion to the Parisian street where prostitutes once plied their trade? Or a lasting memory of a late-in-life sexual experience? The psychoanalyst Michael Balint argues that the inability to perform sexually is traumatizing for elderly males. Is Dine’s impassioned crimson a denial of impotency, since it shows his continuing creative vitality?

His intensely gestural paintings give new credibility to Abstract Expressionist facture, showing that it remains the best, most convincing way to visualize deep feeling, both personal and universal. Mad Dog Dine depicts chaos and anxiety as an essential aspect of existence. Thus the works here evoked the gloomy neo-expressionist quality of the so-called 1980s German Wave. Like those latter-day Sturm und Drang paintings, Dine’s serve to remind us of the unconscious mind’s haunted, inescapable depths. Perhaps more to the aesthetic point of Dine’s “Black Paintings” is that they repudiate the Pop art stylings of the 1960s that brought him a great deal of fame. Pop art, after all, is both glorified entertainment and simulated realism—an elaboration and endorsement of the false consciousness and superficial aesthetics that capitalist culture breeds, serves, and embodies. Dine’s “Black Paintings” reject all that. His rebellion against his own history tells us that he has the courage to change his convictions.

Dine has always been a cleverly self-reflexive artist—remember the paintbrushes and paint cans he attached to the canvas of Job #1, 1962 (likely an ironic allusion to Duchamp’s readymades)? Thankfully, the pieces in this exhibition forgo a cool tongue-in-cheek attitude for something much more uncontrollable and rough. Dine’s surfaces implode and explode simultaneously—they are masterpieces of sadness and causticity. With this series, he is no longer a big Pinocchio, telling heartless Pop art lies. The blackness of his paintings is truly heartfelt, unlike The Technicolor Heart, a relic of fake sentiment mass-produced in Hollywood heaven.