At 79, Jim Dine is still going strong albeit along a well-trodden path. Relying on his trademark subject matter, he releases his signature pieces with nothing less than indomitable resolve. If one considers that in his long career, Dine has produced tens of thousands of paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings, not to mention performance works, stage and book designs, as well as poetry, the facility with which he creates new works is understandable, if at times disappointing. In this, his second exhibition at Galerie de Bellefeuille, he is true to form, and the artwork imbued with a certain raw intensity lacking in the first, 2009 show.

Prolific and versatile, Dine made his name in the 1960s, during the Pop Art movement in New York. He has experimented with numerous styles, setting himself apart from the cold plasticity of Pop Art by the use of personalized objects, injecting an element of intimacy into his work. He keeps reinventing the many familiar elements –bathrobe, heart, Venus de Milo, Pinocchio – each new image adding another page in an ongoing visual diary.

Dine is an icon on the international art scene. His work is instantly recognizable by the repeated use of symbolic elements, as he continues to confound the critics, a pop artist in the robe of an abstract expressionist.

Speaking of ‘the robe’, it remains one of his favourite themes. Duplicated in variation upon variation, it is as much a symbolic connection between the two genres, as a stand-in for the artist himself. It is not, however, the star of this exhibition, which focuses on the Venus de Milo theme, paired, incongruously, with Pinocchio.

The theatrical quality of Dine’s work is on display here, as the works – sculpture, prints and paintings – inhabit the gallery space with dramatic flair. A resolutely marching puppet, next to two, red and blue, classical sculptures, subvert our understanding of these iconic images. This is classic Dine, confusing, entertaining, and ever so slightly unnerving in his audacious appropriation.

Roughly hewn, cast in bronze, these pieces are a deconstructed version of their earlier selves; a return to the raw state, as it were, or perhaps a metamorphosis taking place.

It is echoed in two smaller variations of Pinocchio, posed as if speaking in tandem from a pulpit. This is no longer a puppet – was it ever? – and the crude figures are oddly disturbing. They are meant to, for behind the theatricality, the playfulness, lies the world of personal and acquired symbolism, demanding a deeper reflection. Just as the story of the puppet, hewn from wood, and frankly obnoxious, had numerous interpretations, so does Dine’s disquieting work.

Venus de Milo reigns resplendent in this show, vibrating with colour from image to image, medium to medium, as if robed anew in patches upon patches of red, blue, green, yellow… Beside the red and blue sculpted versions, there are numerous, richly textured paintings, and elegant etchings.

The Tide of Debt (2014) is a tangle of colour, an undulating mosaic from which one can barely discern the classical shape. This acrylic and sand on canvas is like a mural on closer inspection, its texture as tactile as stucco. Imposing in both format and expression, this is Dine at his best. This is Dine re-visited by Dine, once again…

An earlier etching, Red Light (2010), couples two figures in rich red against a deep, dark background, creating a bold composition, both in its form and palette. The painterly aspect takes precedence here, the symbolism giving way to a formal interpretation of the subject matter.

A hybrid piece, a large, colourfully painted bronze sculpture titled The Brothers and Sisters (2013), pairing two figures of Venus de Milo with Pinocchio, now graces the entrance to the gallery’s new venue across the street, and if there ever was an exception to the saying that ‘never the twain shall meet’, this must be it. 

Galerie de Bellefeuille, Montréal
May – June 2014