Why Jim Dine is the Undisputed King of Hearts

Among other things, eminent artist Jim Dine makes hearts. He paints, prints, draws, and sculpts them, expressively, exuberantly. They swell to the edges of his compositions, tower over viewers as monumental sculptures, perch daintily on other forms in tabletop-scale objects. When asked once about his enduring fascination with hearts and how many he thinks he has made over the course of his 50-plus year career, he responded: “Millions…I have no idea but it’s mine and I use it as a template for all my emotions. It’s a landscape for everything. It’s like Indian classical music—based on something very simple but building to a complicated structure. Within that you can do anything in the world. And that’s how I feel about my hearts.” Clearly, this is an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve.

As vehicles for his thoughts and feelings, Dine’s hearts go well beyond schoolgirl-grade doodles, deriving from his responses to the rich range of experiences that compose a life, including his frequent travels, relationships with friends, family, and the works of artists he knows or admires, his immersion in poetry and literature, and quiet musings in his studio. His are hearts formed of lush brushstrokes laden with paint, energetically sketched lines, a patchwork of colors, splatters, and all manner of marks, with roughly hewn surfaces, which sometimes hold an unlikely assortment of objects. They are, in other words, battered, beating, complex, full, alive.

A huge heart composed of a roiling pastiche of multicolored brushstrokes and rivulets of paint emerges from an equally exuberantly painted background in his diptych, Red Wind, Blue Night (2008). It is set next to an image of a robe, another motif in the artist’s work. In the patinated bronze sculptures, Walla Walla Heart on a Rock (2005) and Tools + Fire (2010), the hearts stand upright and three-dimensional, almost personified, their surfaces rough and expressive. The two mixed media prints, Yellow Marks and The Black and Red Heart (both 2013) feature hearts that appear to be flat, as if they were cut out of paper and pasted on to the composition. Such pieces lend credence, perhaps, to Dine’s response to the question of whether his work is based on intuition or rational thoughts: “I don’t have any rational thoughts.”

Karen Kedmey

Explore more artists at Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art.