A Retrospective Delves Into Jim Dine’s Hearts and Other Iconic Symbols

The long career of artist Jim Dine—best known for the heart that features in many of his paintings, sculptures, and prints—is currently the subject of a retrospective at Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Incorporating work from his early flirtations with pop art through the present, the exhibition considers the breadth of Dine’s oeuvre, which extends far beyond his famous hearts.

First associated with artists including Claes Oldenburg and Allan Kaprow in the early 1960s, Dine and his contemporaries exhibited their work in unlikely and unconventional spaces that Dine referred to as “painters’ theatre”—more commonly known as “Happenings.” From these early influences Dine developed his distinct style of appropriating and re-contextualizing popular symbols, though his work did not convey the same sense of irony that was inherent to the pop movement. Instead, his work reflected a sincere, organic sensibility informed by expressionism and his own personal experiences.

  • Hearts in the Meadow, 1970

    Hearts in the Meadow, 1970

“I was never cool,” Dine admits. “I would have been quite pleased to have been a pop artist; I was very involved with pop art and with those guys. But let’s face it, I wasn’t one. I used some popular imagery, objects more than anything else. But I wasn’t glorifying consumerism, nothing like that.” Dine’s work refuses to be pinned down to one category, and the artist has evolved his techniques and mediums immensely throughout the last few decades. He uses the heart motif to experiment with color, form and texture, representing the heart in his paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and prints, which incorporate relief, intaglio, and hand-applied color techniques. 

In a piece from 1970 called Hearts in the Meadow, Dine collages a pattern of stenciled hearts over a painted landscape, and also employs materials such as glitter, graphite, and charcoal, merging abstract elements with pattern. Texturally, the work is a clear contrast to his later works, such as The Magnets (2010), which focus on variations of color and a special technique of collagraph and intaglio etching.

Dine used other motifs, such as tools, plants, and the Venus de Milo in his later work, fully exploring all of these symbols throughout his career. The retrospective includes several of Dine’s works featuring an empty robe, a dark counterpoint to his series of hearts, that he first conjured as a sort of self-portrait while he went through psychoanalytical treatment. Far from falling neatly in line with pop art, Dine’s body of work is held together by introspection and emotional vigor. As the artist puts it: “I’ve never wanted to be a bleeding heart or wear it on my sleeve; it just so happens that was the subject matter because that was my condition.” 

Sola Agustsson 

Jim Dine: A Retrospective” is on view at Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Jan. 20–Mar. 12, 2015.

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