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Tel Aviv Museum's Department of Prints and Drawings Presents Cabinet Secrets: Prints by Jim Dine
Jim Dine, From: 55 Portraits, 1995. Portfolio of 55 etchings.

By: Irith Hadar

TEL AVIV.- The scope of Jim Dine's extended work in print attests to the pivotal place of this medium in his oeuvre at large. The concentration on the medium's unique qualities, the attentiveness to the options revealed during the work process, the centrality of workshop practice—all these characterize Dine as a quintessential print artist.

Dine took up printmaking in the early 1960s. He was not drawn to screenprint and the photo-mechanical techniques, with their anonymous pop art look. From the very outset he developed a preference for lithography, which enabled him to work directly on the stone—in pencil, brush, and ink—to create surface and line occurrences indicating the gestures and movement of his hand. Indeed, in their affinity with Abstract Expressionism, these lithographs indicate the fondness of the artist (identified with Pop art at the time) for art oriented toward the intimate and the personal. This preference, joined by the need for physicality during the processing of the image, led Dine to experiment in etching, and gradually also in other intaglio techniques. He was fascinated by the immediacy of the engraving process in which every touch of the burin or acid leaves a mark on the plate which presents the artist's touch, and from the mid-1970s this work mode took center-stage in his printmaking.

Dine's work in the long-established field of intaglio printmaking linked him to the rich tradition of Western art in this medium, deepening his knowledge of the precedents of European modernism, and especially his acquaintance with the graphic work of German Expressionists such as Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Emil Nolde, Max Pechstein, and Max Beckmann. He felt a special affinity with the former three since they too turned to print, which they practiced with a fair measure of freedom and invention, due to its innate immediacy, rather than its reproductive possibilities. Dine too processes the copper plates with unusual, self-developed tools, including abrasion and rotary power-tools. He often relinquishes the perfect production of editions comprising identical copies, instead creating unique one-off prints, largely employing hand-coloring during and following the printing process (sandwich prints), responding to disruptions encountered along the way: such as the lack of overlap in the plate printing (off-registration), which makes things "a little more human… connecting… leaving tracks."

Dine's self-portrait was intertwined in his work following two principal transformations that occurred in it in the early 1970s: his transition to drawing from observation upon his return from a five-year sojourn in London in 1971, and his taking up intaglio print in the following two years. Theretofore the self-portrait was only indirectly present in his work via substitutes such as robe or heart images. An essential link binds these two processes together, processes which do not amount to the mere technical dimension since both involve intense and sweeping work which demands alertness and quick responses. The most important point in understanding the fundamental affinity between Dine's practice in drawing from observation and his intaglio printmaking is that both call for structuring of an image which documents its mode of formation. Observation and drawing, invention and rectification, discovery, supplementation, erasure, etc.—all the work phases are exposed on the paper sheet, thereon presenting the transformations occurring in the concept towards its realization.

Dine's portraits, more than they remove masks and expose distress in the spirit of the precedents of German Expressionism, speak the language of print, unfolding the procedures involved in its making. Dine's presence and identity as an artist are manifested in his praxis. The narrowed eyes and frowning-furrowed eyebrows, emerging in most of his self-portraits, reflect the concentration required during observation in an attempt to capture that which is forever elusive, that which occurs in the process and is transformed by the very act, as well as the responses to the changes in the visible and in that which already exists on the paper—responses which leave their own marks on the image. In this sense, Dine has been The Smiling Workman (as the title of the happening he performed at Judson Gallery, New York, in February-March 1960), present in the work as one who acts.

In the 55-print portfolio, of which the prints for the current exhibition were selected, Dine took an unusual step of enhanced responsiveness to the contingency innate to his practice, and even gave it crucial influence in the modeling of his artistic identity. He personally prepared the 11 plates (10 of them bearing an image, while the eleventh, processed with a rotary tool, carried no image) of whose various combinations all the portfolio prints were produced, but he left the choice of the plate and ink color combinations to the printers. After completion of the printing process, each of the ten key plates was affixed to a portfolio box lid, and two of the prints were hand-colored by Dine.

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