A couple of weeks ago, I was talking on the phone with one of the collectors I advise, telling him that I was going to attend the opening of “Jim Dine. About the Love of Printing” at the Folkwang Museum in Essen, when he started to describe a series of Dine prints in fine detail. At the end of his passionate description he asked me about the very first image I could think of when hearing the name of Dine. I answered: “the cover of his Pinocchio.”
I have had Jim Dine-Collodi’s “Pinocchio” placed facing-outwards on my office bookshelf for weeks (or at least since my last compulsive browsing at artbooksonline) and the phone call made me want to browse it for a while.
The front cover is characterized by Dine’s portrait of Pinocchio. The yellow letters composing the marionette’s name are scattered on the surface, superimposed on his smiling face and forming the title of the publication.
This good-natured visage had often ‘looked at me’ from my bookshelf, making me reflect on the harshness of his story while recalling in me the peculiar feeling (a mix of joy and fear, innocence and guilt, with a hint of resignation) I experienced almost everyday at the age of six, when our teacher read us some pages of the book before home time.
Pinocchio’s portrait is part of a series of lithographs made by Dine to depict the young boy’s adventures. The prints, on show in Essen until the 31st of January 2016, serve as the illustrations of his version of Collodi’s book. The artist designed the volume together with Gerhard Steidl and Claas Möller. It was printed at Steidl in 2006. Flicking through its pages, one is invited to read, but also to visually follow, the textual narration which is interposed by 36 full-page illustrations (one per chapter). Text and image reverberate within the 176 pages of the volume, passing from one element to the other and vice-versa. Some words, sentences and even entire paragraphs have been occasionally colored, shifted, and typographically elaborated in order to better beat the rhythm of the story as well as convey and enhance the contrasting feelings that resonate in everyone of us coming into contact with the mischievous adventures of Pinocchio and his humble father Geppetto.
Dine (1935-) has been fascinated with Pinocchio since he saw the Disney movie in 1941. In the 1960s he bought a figurine of the puppet and from that moment he has explored the subject in a variety of media (painting, drawing, prints, sculpture, photography …).
In “Pinocchio”, typography, pagination and illustrations transmit the artist’s emotional bond with the story, its characters and their metaphorical significance. Dine portrays himself as an old man with a scowl, glasses and a short beard at the beginning of the book when Geppetto creates Pinocchio from a simple piece of wood. He appears again in the shoes of Geppetto in chapter 35, when Pinocchio finds his “dear papa” in the body of the Dogfish, the two tell each other the adventures that brought them to meet in the unusual location, and Pinocchio takes his father on his shoulders to escape the monster. This time, the face of the artist appears less sullen; his gaze, directed elsewhere, has remained troubled, but his beard is much whiter and longer …
These pictures should be interpreted in the broader framework of the book and of the significance of the story for the artist. The volume closes in fact with a statement by Dine which starts like this: “Thanks to Carlo Collodi, the real creator of Pinocchio, I have for many years been able to live thru [sic] the wooden boy. His ability to hold the metaphor in limitless ways has made my drawings, paintings and sculpture of him richer by far. His poor burned feet, his misguided judgment, his vanity about his large nose, his temporary donkey ears all add up to the real sum of his parts. In the end it is his great heart that holds me […].”
Collodi is, and will always be the creator of Pinocchio. However, embodying Dine’s verbi-visual interpretation of the Tuscan author’s story, the book does not only communicate its collective educational value but also its meaning in and within the American artist’s oeuvre. That is why, at the end of my exploration, I decided to leave Dine’s “Pinocchio” open on my desk in correspondence with the very pages that precede the frontispiece: this double-spread presents in a nutshell the operative modalities of the publication while introducing at best the Weltanschauung of the artist and the importance of his almost long-term relationship with the “piece of wood that laughed and cried like a child”.
You can find a list of Jim Dine’s available books here.