Distressingly for art lovers, the reopening of museums in France has been postponed from December 15 to January 7, but the good news is that small art galleries are open. One exhibition well worth seeing is “A Day Longer,” a presentation of three years’ worth of new work by 85-year-old American artist Jim Dine, some of it made in his Paris studio during lockdown, at the Galerie Templon.
An assault on the senses greets visitors when they walk into the gallery’s main room at the sight of eight heavily impastoed, forcefully colorful monumental paintings on wood. Your first impression might be that Dine went crazy and randomly squeezed tubes and tubes of paint onto the canvas and then threw everything in his studio – including his tools, dirt and blocks of wood – on for good measure and covered them up with more paint. Not so: there is method to his madness.
There is no surprise in the presence of so many mallets, hatchets, saws, etc. embedded in the lavishly applied oil paint: Dine has been using tools as part of his work since his Pop Art days in the early 1960s, a byproduct of an obsession with tools that has persisted since he was a child in his grandfather’s hardware store.
Tools, wood, sand and charcoal are not the only add-ons to these at-first-glance abstract works, however: humans also creep into them in the form of barely distinguishable bodies (“Prophet in the Storm”) or mask-like faces in roughly carved wood (“At Night, I Ride”), iron (“The Twisted Lyre”) or bronze and aluminum (“Forgotten Harvest, Fragrant Spirit). Dine doesn’t worry much about the labels “abstract” and “figurative.”
In fact, the 15 smaller paintings in the back room are entirely figurative, depicting nothing but human faces – all of them Dine’s, easily recognizable by the bald head and prominent ears, but otherwise all very different.
The show also includes two sculptures in a new “collage” style: in each one, a “head” made of assembled painted cast-bronze pieces is mounted on a simple base.
The prolific Dine, who is also a poet, has a way with words, as seen in the lyrical titles of these works (I especially like the evocative “At Night, I Ride”). The show’s poignant title, “A Day Longer” – “It’s death breathing down my neck,” he explains – is his as well.
“Paintings are mysterious objects,” says Dine in the exhibition video. “They have a life of their own. You have to harness it. It’s like the wind.” In the catalog, however, poet and critic John Yau writes that Dine, “a masterful draftsman capable of delicately nuanced sensual lines,” has “thrown caution to the wind” in his recent work. It seems to me that Dine has managed to have it both ways.
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