Jim Dine, Colourful Venus 1 (1985). Collection National Gallery of Victoria. Gift of the artist, 2016. On display in Jim Dine: A Life in Print, NGV International, Melbourne, until October 15. When Jim Dine bought a small plaster replica of Venus de Milo in a gift shop in the early 1980s, the first thing he did was break off its head. He also changed the plaster figurine by scratching and carving its surface. He was making his own distinctly personal version of the famous armless, partially draped, ancient Greek sculpture.
His headless Venus de Milo has been one of his motifs for more than 30 years. Indeed, his Venus has proven immensely inspirational, allowing him to experiment and reinvent the archetypal symbol across various media. His monumental Venus sculptures are located, for instance, on New York’s Seventh Avenue and in Spain’s Guggenheim Bilbao. But besides the sculptures, his Venus also has appeared in numerous paintings, drawings and prints.
The Venus works reflect Dine’s deep interest in antiquity, which started during his childhood, but it wasn’t until the 80s that he began to explore his fascination through his art.
Dine came to prominence in New York in the 60s when artists were trying to redefine American art after Jackson Pollack and abstract expressionism. He made his mark as one of the instigators of “happenings”, performance artworks that blended theatre, music, poetry and visual art. He then became interested in a neodadaist approach alongside Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.
Dine frequently has been described as a pop artist, but it is a label he vehemently rejects. His art does not celebrate consumer culture, and it doesn’t share that same cool, detached aesthetic of artists such as Andy Warhol. Rather, Dine is known for his unconventional approach to printmaking, which can include attacking the printing plate with power tools and hand-colouring the prints, with the result that no two works are the same. He now lives in Paris and continues to work and exhibit internationally.
Some of Dine’s prints are on show at Melbourne’s National Gallery of Victoria in an exhibition, Jim Dine: A Life in Print. The prints, spanning 45 years, are part of an extraordinary gift of 249 artworks the artist donated to the NGV last year.
There are a several Venus prints in the exhibition and one of them is an early work, Colourful Venus, from 1985, which depicts the figure as a flat field divided into brightly coloured sections. The gallery’s curator of prints, Petra Kayser, says it is a strong graphic work and easily recognisable as the Venus de Milo, even without its head.
“He basically breaks a rounded, three-dimensional form into a graphic image into flat sections, and then colours them and creates textures and splashes,” she says. “It is all about giving a handmade, tactile quality to something that is printed by a machine. Dine is really all about textures and mark making.”
Kayser says she likes Colourful Venus because it is so vibrant. “You can see the artist’s hand even though it is a print and there’s been this mechanical process. The colours are selected to convey texture and an emotional response … The sense of energy is what I really like about it.”
Colour photolithograph, 89.4cm x 63.5cm