Jim Dine’s Profound Self-Portraits at the Albertina

Jim Dine, "Old Rider," 2008
(Albertina, Vienna © 2016 Jim Dine | ARS, NY | Bildrecht, Vienna)

“I Never Look Away” at the Albertina in Vienna is an exhibition of self-portraits by American artist and poet Jim Dine. The 60 primarily charcoal-on-paper works in the exhibition are drawn from a collection of 232 self-portraits that the 80-year-old artist donated to the Albertina in 2015, spanning his entire career from the 1950s to the present day.

Self-portraiture is a key component of Dine’s oeuvre, and he has experimented with the genre throughout his career in a variety of mediums including painting, drawing, and printmaking. Since the 1970s, when he returned to figuration, Dine has produced a remarkably consistent body of portraits characterized by their front-on format, focus on the head and face, and earnest facial expression.   

The authenticity, honesty, and maturity of Dine’s figurative depictions of the “self,” created from his own mirror impressions, suggest that the artist is not interested in portraying a theatrical, analytical, or biographical narrative, but rather the unchanging, innermost core of his being – the essence of self in its purest form.

Dine describes his subject as “the psychology of me,” and states that he finds his unconscious infinitely interesting. His simple yet profound statement  “I paint who I am; I paint what I am”  highlights his unique approach to self-portraiture, through which he invites the viewer to experience the genre in a whole new light and context while reflecting on the definition of the self.

In an interview with the Albertina, Dine relates the childhood origins of his mirror reflex: “It is me regarding me to correct and make the so-called auto-portrait at the second of seeing me in the reflection. I can then correct without a crayon or pencil, and erase in my mind a mark put wrong and not the psychological fact of the magic moment when my face looks like I never saw it before.”

In the exhibition catalogue, Klaus Albrecht Schröder, Director of the Albertina, says that every one of Dine’s portraits bears witness to the directness with which the artist studies his own facial features, as though he is continually observing them for the first time. “Hence the credibility and authenticity of feeling that characterizes each and every one of these self-portraits by Jim Dine,” says Schröder.

“No skill, no virtuosity, no routine sneaks into these self-portrayals. Each individual image is time and again the direct result of a seemingly unique confrontation with the self in the mirror. [...] This is what lends his self-portraits their overwhelming power,” Schröder adds.

“I Never Look Away” runs from June 24 until October 2 at the Albertina.