Jim Dine’s Shoe expresses the qualities of freshness, humor, irreverence, irony, and rebelliousness so admired in the artist’s work, and indeed of so much of the neo-Dada and Pop art of this period. This era of the early ‘60s in American art was a period that saw a move away from Abstract Expressionism, toward Pop and beyond, an explosion of diverse styles. The painting is a still life, but a still life from a very particular moment in American society and American culture; probably no artists other than Dine and his generation (Andy Warhol, Wayne Thiebaud, Claus Oldenburg et. al.) could have created such works that combine humor, detachment, and commentary on still life as a genre. These artists gazed at the objects of American abundance with a combination of wonder, admiration, horror, and awe. Dine’s still life subjects are widely understood as being stand-ins for the human body and they do appear used and lived in, not pristine, not cool, distant media representations.
“Although Dine’s stylistic shifts do not follow a clear, linear path, it can generally be stated that his work of the early 60s is characterized by the aggressive, haphazard energy of his Happenings and the heritage of the Abstract Expressionist gesture. At times his line appears a random scrawl and the image-making brutal. Real objects are often incorporated into the compositions” (J. Marter, The Grove Encyclopedia of American Art, New York, 2011, p. 77). Shortly before he painted Shoe, Dine had been involved with creating Happenings, the performance art style that sought to break-down barriers separating life and art. This work and others of his still life paintings seem to echo that goal. “The object-remnant replaces the human body, even while conveying its subjectivity” (G. Celant and C. Bell, Jim Dine: Walking Memory, 1959-1969, New York, 1999, p. 19).
The 1950s and 1960s—when Dine and other artists of his generation came of age—were decades of great material abundance, and these artists grew up in an America overflowing with new consumer goods and the media advertising that extoled them. “Dine’s painting arises…as comedy instead of drama, as a taste for the particular instead of the universal…The theme of his art is the contrast between the everyday life of little things and the solemn ruins of the universal view of an ambitious society caught up in the definition of history” (G. Celant and C. Bell, Jim Dine: Walking Memory, 1959-1969, New York, 1999, p. 14).
In the present work, the image of the shoe is presented above the word “shoe,” the word presented as if a caption of a sort, the image an illustration. “The attempt to give objects a symbolic and universal meaning was no longer of interest (for Dine). A thing is no longer a metaphor for something else, but rather goes back to being a thing—a light bulb or a paintbrush, a can or a hammer, a pie or a chair….The thing is no longer transformed into something other than itself, but rather becomes an occasion for ideas, serving only as a temporary repository for those ideas it arouses through mental associations. …The object and the thing are therefore only what they are. They must be accepted in all their crudeness, which is neither beautiful nor ugly” (G. Celant and C. Bell, Jim Dine: Walking Memory, 1959-1969, New York, 1999, p. 15).