Jim DINE | An animal

United States of America 1935

An animal 1961
oil and pelt on canvas
not signed, not dated
183.0 (h) x 153.0 (w) cm
Purchased 1980
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 1980.3926
© Jim Dine


After Jim Dine moved to New York in 1958 he became associated with a group of artists, including Allan Kaprow and Claes Oldenburg, who created performance art events or 'Happenings'. This established Dine as an artist who queried the categories of conventional media such as oil painting, implacably separated from bronze or marble sculpture. Nonetheless, An animal is one of a group of works begun by Dine in 1961 in which the legacy of recent art is still apparent in the free, painterly technique of its oil paint. But the paintings were combined with real objects fixed to the surface, with their identity written below.

In An animal, an old fur coat is spread out flat across the upper part of the canvas, while the lower part is covered with the lush, turbulent surface of an Abstract Expressionist style of oil painting. Across the bottom, Dine has inscribed 'an animal' in capital letters. Thus he lampoons the 'sensuous skin' of Abstract Expressionism. He also explores the relationship between linguistic symbol, painted surface, and real objects; 'It was an idea I had like a lot of my pictures then, that a painting should be an object'.[1]

The real fur in An animal came ‘from a ratty old coat I got at a junk store that gave me the appearance of a Russian bum, mainly because my people come from Eastern Europe … Everything was grist for my mill and I've always believed in making a silk purse from a sow's ear.’[2] By removing the bearskin from its normal human uses—as clothing, as a rug—and naming it, Dine reasserts its original purpose, to cover the living creature. He also questions the two-dimensionality of painting: taking the rug from the floor and placing it on the wall denies illusionism, the assertion that traditional art truthfully represents three-dimensional reality.

Michael Lloyd, Michael Desmond and Christine Dixon[3]


[1] Dine, correspondence, 16 June 1986, NGA file 82/0427–01

[2] See note 1 above

[3] Michael Lloyd and Michael Desmond, European and American paintings and sculptures 1870–1970 in the Australian National Gallery, Australian National Gallery, Canberra, 1992, pp 312–13; adapted by Christine Dixon, Senior Curator, International Painting and Sculpture, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2009