- The Washington Times - Friday, March 26, 2004

New York artist Jim Dine, whose cool “pop” paintings of floating red bathrobes catapulted him to 1960s fame, reveals another side of his art — a brilliant draftsmanship reminiscent of Rembrandt and Picasso — in the National Gallery of Art’s “Drawings of Jim Dine” exhibit.

Rarely seen as a group, these important autobiographical charcoal drawings date from 1968 to today and include such iconic works as Mr. Dine’s 16-foot-long “Name Painting (1935-1963) #1” from 1968-69, “Untitled (Red Clippers)” of 1974 and “Nine Self-Portraits With a Very Long Beard” from 1977. He employs a limited number of subjects, such as tools, nudes, sculptures from antiquity, the puppet Pinocchio and plants to reinvent himself.

“For the most part, I draw things I’ve drawn before because I’ve chosen those objects as mine, the tools, for example,” Mr. Dine says in the exhibit catalog, “Drawings of Jim Dine.”

Most important here is Mr. Dine’s belief that drawing is a major art form. “I don’t make sketches, I don’t make studies; a drawing is a drawing, a painting is a painting,” he says in the catalog.

Judith Brodie, exhibit curator and National Gallery curator of modern prints and drawings, agrees with the artist and chose to concentrate on his drawings, especially on what she calls “the passionate charcoals.”

“The show reflects my tastes and interests; it’s not intended to be a retrospective,” she says.

Miss Brodie affirms that the emotion and intensity of his art are what attract her. “He can draw emotion out of a hammer,” she says.

Mr. Dine, 68, always rejected the pop label as he worked with personal and real objects, not ones from popular culture. He also emphasizes in the catalog that the tools, ties, bathrobes and hearts he pictured in the 1960s and early 1970s essentially portrayed him — and still do.

The show’s viewers may find it difficult to appreciate the drawings as autobiographical, but he says the suite of bathrobes from 1962 to 1964 are self-portraits, as he made them reflect the shape of his body. The seven drawings borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art for the National Gallery exhibition, showing axes, hammers and other hand tools, are also self-portraits. They metaphorically recall happy days working as a youngster in his grandfather’s Cincinnati hardware store.

Miss Brodie appropriately chose to open the show with the enormous, horizontally oriented “Name Painting” — which really isn’t just a “painting.” The curator explains that Mr. Dine was leaving his highly successful career in painting at the time and left “painting” in the title because of its scale and canvas support.

Writing from left to right, the artist “wrote” the names of people he says affected his life from 1935 to 1963. He drew thousands of letters until he had filled the canvas.

The artist advanced chronologically until he had filled the work with names of friends, family, his children and artists. Some names, such as that of artist John Chamberlain, are lighter and clearly legible; others are darker and smudged. Mr. Dine varies names in caps with those in running script for an intense graphic punch.

He first writes delicately scripted names on the white of the canvas, overlays them with scripted names in darker and middle tones, then layers still further with a larger and more physical use of the charcoal stick. Standing away from the canvas, visitors will see where Mr. Dine smeared the charcoal for large, moody areas of almost abstract, blackened images. By contrast, the linear power of the names becomes paramount as viewers move closer to the work.

The artist broadens his earlier charcoal smearing of “Names” in his seemingly haunted, charcoal-and-pastel “Untitled (Red Clippers).” The pastel red handles and shiny cutters seem to emerge from a deep, watery black well. Miss Brodie says Mr. Dine used his fingers and tools for drawing.

Mr. Dine is at his emotionally strongest here with great, gestural sweeps of charcoal that move around the clippers’ area. Sharpened charcoal sticks swirl around a clipper end. The whites below make it mystical.

After moving to Vermont in 1974, the artist changed radically by turning to figure drawing that is often disturbing. His portrayal of “The Skier” (1976), in which he tears the white paper underlying the face from the charcoal drawing overlay, makes her grotesque.

Two drawings of his son, Mitch, from 1976 — “Second Baby Drawing” and “Third Baby Drawing” — show his liking for erasing the lines of the drawing and then filling in for a different image. He writes in the catalog, “I love building up, erasing, losing it, bringing it back, taking away.”

In 1988, Mr. Dine introduced such new subjects as antique sculpture — as the “Glyptotek Drawings” — owls, Pinocchio and Vermont’s lush landscape.

Not all visitors who traverse this large, diverse exhibit will understand that the images — ranging from “Red Clippers” to “Pinocchio” — are forceful and intriguing stand-ins and sometimes metaphors for himself. Not to worry. Viewers will know they’re experiencing some of the great drawings of this century.

WHAT: “Drawings of Jim Dine”

WHERE: National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays, through Aug. 1.


PHONE: 202/737-4215

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