Thursday, October 6, 2011

Finding Life in the Mundane

I draw a lot of chairs.

I realized this while flipping through my sketchbook and seeing that most of the drawings were of chairs or views from chairs, or views from sitting on top of a couch looking at the negative space created by chairs. Why chairs?

I am fascinated by the mundane. This may sound a bit weird, but its true. After discovering that I did not share my best friend's talent for drawing manga in middle school, I became a purists of sorts, saying things like "Its not that I can't draw a unicorn. It's just that I like drawing ...projectors, desks, pencils etc."  I drew strictly from life, my perfectionist streak preventing me from drawing anything that I could not verify with photographs. I ending up drawing places I spend a large amount of time in; like the comfy chairs facing mine on the fourth floor of the library, or the table that I tend to gaze abstractly for long club meetings. I didn't and still don't really look necessarily for pretty or incredibly interesting subject matter; just what is in front of me at the time. However, while focusing on drawing my immediate surroundings, I slowly began to become fascinated by the items surrounding me. Even the most simple piece of furniture and the most practical bookshelf becomes more interesting. I gaze and try to imitate the forms making up these objects that I see and use everyday. By taking the time to really look and using my pencil to try to understand everyday objects, I get a better appreciation of the ingenuity of the design, and the beauty of the lines, darks, and lights that make up these objects. Why chairs? Why not.

This tendency to draw and concentrate on ubiquitous items is something I share with Jim Dine: an artist whose work is closely associated with Pop Art(1960s). Dine's work has a sort of exuberance that endows common items such as bathrobes, tools, ropes, and shoes with a human presence.

Untitled (Five Bladed Saw) from Untitled Tools Series

Jim Dine was born in Cincinatti and worked in his father's store from the ages of nine to eighteen. The store sold house paint, tools, and plumbing supplies, and while Dine was not interested in selling the items, he said in an interview that he "found that daydreaming amongst objects of affection was very nice." (Glenn, 15) These familiar objects appear again and again in his artwork. Dine saw these tools as extension of the hand. According to Constance Glenn, he constantly revisited these utensils that are so common and yet, if you really look at them, so alien and mysterious. (14) Instead of looking at our tools, bathrobes, saws etc. we merely use them and then put them away. Dine really looks at and appreciates these everyday items through his drawings.

Bathrobe, 1965
Dine seems to be very interested in creating contrast in order to better show and glorify the mundane. This can be seen in many of his bathrobe drawings, by showing the robe sitting  the same way it would on a body, with the body noticeably absent,  Dine creates a feeling of contained energy. For example in the etching above, Jim Dine uses black loops to create value, but the expressive qualities are very clearly contained and controlled by the stark outline. The power and intensity in the piece lies in the balance between negative space and positive space, flowing texture, and stark outlines. The outlines literally cage the free gestural lines, like when one holds back emotions behind a mask. There is something so human about it, and it has so much character. I can't look away. According to Jean E. Feinberg, Jim Dine's power lies in the fact that he pours his mind into his pieces of artwork so that it's emotions become a vehicle of communication for the viewer  (9). In other words, Jim Dine's art work moves viewers  because he pours himself into what he creates so that his pieces themselves become like fellow human beings. Many of Dine's tool pieces are life size so they literally have a presence which fills the room much like a living breathing person.

Jim Dine was thrust into the art world in the early 1960s and matured as an artist and as a person under the spotlight. His work is exciting and powerful because his own self-exploration and search for understanding is made available in his work. Jim Dine opens up through his various mediums, so his drawings become a tangible extensions of himself. As a somewhat reserved person, it really moves me when I see a drawing that has that sort of feeling and personality that exudes the most ordinary objects. His pieces are as complex and varied as our personalities so that even bathrobes or statues can take on many faces.
Red, White, and Blue Venus for Mondale, 1984
On left: Black Dust Venus, 1983        On right: Three Venuses Coming Through, 1983

On Left:Venus in the Red Air, 1983      On Right: Venus Outlined in Blue, 1983

Here are some works from his Venus series that I wanted to include, because I think they are really wonderful. While I could only find a few examples online, I took some pictures from the Jim Dine Drawings book to show some examples of Dine taking a subject and experimenting with color and value to change mood and the temperature of the piece. The original Venus is a beautiful piece of sculpture, and Jim Dine's drawing is not nearly as refined, but the raw power and strength of the line and the values makes it a valuable and interesting contribution.

Jim Dine is an incredibly prolific artist and continues to make new and exciting work today, so I look forward to what he does next. His ability to manage and best utilize his expressive line is something I strive to find in my own work and I will continue to see his example and be inspired by it.


"Jim Dine"., Guggenheim. n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2011

Glenn, Constance W. Jim Dine Drawings. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc, 1985. Print

 Feinberg, Jean E. Jim Dine. Modern Masters. New York: Abbeville Press, 1995. Print.

Beal, Graham W. J. Jim Dine. New York: Abbeville Press, 1984. Print.


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