A History of Communism is an extraordinary series of new prints by the seminal American artist Jim Dine made from lithographic stones found in what was previously a socialist art academy in the German Democratic Republic. Dine received the stones from his friends Sarah Dudley and Ulie Kuhle, lithographic printers based in Berlin. The recovered stones had been untouched for years and most intriguingly for the artist, still possessed 40 years’ worth of preserved images drawn by students under the oppressive regime.
The anonymous drawings, remnants of a government and country that no longer formally exists, immediately appealed to the artist. The whole process of creating this exhibition took two and a half years, with Dine working on top of the original drawings, careful not to ‘subvert’ the images he had inherited. The prints will feature in an exhibition of the same name at the Alan Cristea Gallery which opens on 10 September.
Dine began his artistic life as a performance artist with his ‘Happenings’ in 1959-60, and was involved in the Pop Art movement in the 1960s before he left the ‘isms’ behind. He is perhaps best known for his images of bathrobes, tools, and hearts; subjects which he continues to revisit. An added intriguing element about the History of Communism series is the coincidental similarity between Dine’s own visual language of appropriated objects, such as brushes, tools, scissors and the iconic symbols of communism. The national emblem of the GDR for example was composed of a hammer intertwined with a compass, surrounded by a ring of rye.
By using his own motifs to frame, overlay or interfere with the original image, Dine doesn’t just reinterpret, but also exerts control over the found lithographic images. A History of Communism ultimately echoes Dine’s own personal history, (his family roots are in Eastern Europe: his Jewish grandparents were from Lithuania and Poland) and a review of his visual language and techniques to date.
Running at the gallery’s second space is Jim Dine: Printmaker, a selection of recent editions and classic prints by the artist which tells the story of Dine’s fifty years as a printmaker, featuring such works as Orange Birthday Robe (2010), Remembering Wallace Ting (2010), Tools and Dreams (1985) and 64 Blocks (2009). He made his first print at the age of seventeen and has since gone on to make prints in every conceivable medium. The artist himself says:
“The thrill for me is inventing, and adding or taking out, changing from one state to another. Handcolouring over a woodcut that’s in black and white, then printing the block again over the colour that I painted on, then taking a rag soaked in turpentine and rubbing it over the print, then putting an etching over that. It’s more than that though; it’s the freedom to change when I want to and for the image to grow.”
A History of Communism will be accompanied by a catalogue published by Steidl with text by Professor Gwen Sasse, Professorial Fellow in Politics, Nuffield College, Oxford University.
Both exhibitions mark the imminent gift of a substantial group of prints by Jim Dine in Alan Cristea’s name to the British Museum.