Jim Dine: 84 years of creative rebellion

Dine's Venus, bathrobe, tools and Pinnochio are all running themes of the exhibition.
Dine's Venus, bathrobe, tools and Pinnochio are all running themes of the exhibition. / Ñ. SALAS
  • "The key word is 'necessary'. I cannot stop," says Dine, the artist from Ohio, who has dedicated his entire life to his work

  • This "American painter in Paris" speaks candidly to press as Pompidou exhibition opens

The call on Tuesday was simply to watch Jim Dine, creator of 'Happenings', write out a poem on a blank wall of Centre Pompidou Málaga. What nobody was expecting was an artist stood in front of his work, eager to speak to the press and to be candid, in advance of the official opening of the exhibition the following day. "You're looking at 84 years of thinking and feeling with my hand," pointed out the Ohio-born artist.

The exhibition, running until 6 October, is a sculpted and painted autobiography, a tour through half a century of creation, (from 1961 to 2016), showing some 30 works of art donated to Paris's Musée National d'Art Moderne.

Art for Dine is "everything". "This is no joke; I have spent my life doing these. If you like it, fine, if you don't like it, that's OK too. There's nothing I can do about it because I had to do these paintings," he shrugged, with a somewhat dour attitude which gradually sweetened by the second. Later, Dine would return to this argument: "The key word is 'necessary'. I cannot stop. If you like it, I'm delighted; if not, it doesn't matter to me."

At 84 years old, Jim Dine has seen it all before, throughout decades spent finding his own style. In fact, the artist describes himself as a "miner, who mines for subjects and feelings, instead of coal or gold or copper". In the Fifties he took the artistic world by surprise with Happenings, multidisciplinary performance artworks such as The Smiling Worker.

Critics accepted Dine into the pop-art world, and his name became synonymous with geniuses Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol for his use of everyday objects. Dine experimented with the Neo-Dada movement, adopted stylistic elements from ancient cultures, dabbled in figurative art, only to later be influenced by abstract expressionism, and these days, incorporating poetry into his art.

Whatever the style, there has always been a common subject, with some themes more recurrent, having accompanied Dine throughout his life, and others only grabbing the artist's attention at 40, 50 or 70 years old. "It is a process of addition. The themes are there. I took them for my own, and they keep growing. If you've made something yours, you don't want to throw it away. It would be wasteful," Dine explained.

Throughout the exhibition, Dine's tools, Venus, bathrobe and Pinocchio consequently reappear. As curator, Annalisa Rimaudo explained in a whistle-stop introductory tour that each work tells us something about Dine's life.

The artist lost his mother at 12 years old and as a result grew very attached to his grandparents, who owned a hardware store. This world fascinated Dine from a young age, and this is expressed through his incorporation of hammers, saws, and screwdrivers into his art. Some are stuck as if they were brushstrokes, as a kind of action painting, to another of the artist's constants: Venus, a manifestation of art history and the study of the body itself. Dine removes her head and sculpts or paints her to huge scale, leaving her to stand as his alter ego, the feminine version of its male counterpart, which Dine shows in his previous series of bathrobes. Dine first encountered the bathrobe image in a 1964 publication of the New York Times, and has identified with it, whether blurred or fragmented, ever since: The Farmer and Stephen hands path are go-to examples.

But if there were a figure to which Dine was drawn most since his childhood, it would be that of Pinocchio. From 2000 onwards, the wooden sculpture has come to represent the "metamorphosis" of the artistic process. "Just like the story, Dine is able to breathe life into a piece of wood," remarked the curator.

Hearts, like a display of the closest and most-loved elements of Dine's life, occupy another room. The biographical journey through Dine's art ends with Sawhorse, a form of ongoing self-representation, on which the artist has not stopped working since 1969, adding scraps of material left over from other artwork, and superimposing them in layers.

Everything is surrounded by poems, handwritten on the walls. For years, Dine kept his poetic production separate from his art. "But, it's all the same. Everything comes from the same thing in my stomach," he explained. The poems that decorate the Pompidou now were written no more than six months ago, and mark a change in Dine's way of writing. "I had to stop drinking. I was not an alcoholic, but I would drink sometimes to write because it freed my mind and the words," he confessed.

Dine feared the correlation between poetry and alcohol. But it was not so. "I've achieved something different, a clarity of language I did not have before, a tougher poetry for both my readers and myself, because it speaks more truthfully," said Dine, "Thank you. These have been the best questions I have been asked in a long time." And, with that goodbye, he was met by the applause of all those there.