In her singular style, for decades Jane Dickson has created iconic images of New York City in photography, drawing, and painting. Dickson’s luminescent images of Times Square were among her first—created during her 30 years living there from the late 1970s onward—and came to inform her many depictions of the hallucinatory structures of America across the country that would follow, from Vegas casinos and demolition derbies, to billboards and neon signs, motels, strip-malls, and gas stations, to highways, bridges, and tunnels. Broadly interconnected, Dickson’s decades-long artistic output contains a number of explicit returns to particular places and subjects. In her own words: “Creativity is a series of loops.” Having carried a small camera with her since 1977, documenting subjects through the immediacy of film, to be sooner or later revisited, has become inherent to her practice. In this way, while the artist’s photography is remarkable in itself—as surveyed in Jane Dickson in Times Square (2018, Anthology Editions)—it has also doubled as the tool throughout her career that grants the artist’s ongoing sequence of returns, informing the style and content of her drawn and painted works.
Dickson’s work has always been about environments, particularly those of human-made urban landscapes, and the feelings of desire, weariness, excitement, claustrophobia, and ambivalence that accumulate as we navigate these spaces. The drawings on view were made primarily from a set of nocturnal photographs that the artist shot in and around Times Square in the ‘80s and ‘90s, which she had not seen since. At that time, the city was in a period of extreme instability and change—in many ways that have echoed over the past year of shutdowns and street protests, with helicopters circling overhead and increased levels of crime and poverty in the street and subways. While continuing to explore new subjects during the chaotic and isolated pandemic shutdown, Dickson chose to ground herself by also touching base with her past by sifting through a trove of unexamined 1980s negatives, scanning then drawing and painting from them. Dickson approaches her subjects archaeologically, uncovering layers of interest in time and place, occasionally landing on a lost detail or a glinting moment. While many of these drawing contain signs, honing in on typefaces and associative phrases, wondering at what is described for sale, many also stand as figure studies. Each work becomes like a small proscenium stage, placing its actors into a setting, sometimes seen from above or afar. By retracing these moments, Dickson is most interested in delivering a psychological or emotional truth through the image, wondering: What is being sold? What is it we really want? How does that moment in that place feel? Rendered in oil stick on black paper, the sensations of action and atmosphere are enhanced through their material immediacy. The textures of these works—together physical and emotional—also allow us to take a deep breath, knowing that the value of certain things may be that they are still (and might always be) in a state of change.
Jane Dickson has featured in exhibitions including Jane Dickson: Paradise Alley, curated by Thelma Golden at the Whitney Museum (1996); Creative Time (1993); The Metropolitan Museum of Art (1991); the 1985 Whitney Biennial; and most recently in the survey exhibition New York Underground: East Village in the 80s, presented at the Seoul Museum of Art in 2019, traveling through China. Her work is in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian, The Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Whitney Museum, The Brooklyn Museum, The Art Institute of Chicago, and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, among others. Her papers are in the Hip Hop Collection of Cornell University’s library. Dickson's work can also be found at the MTA Times Sq-42 St subway station, where she completed a mosaic in 2008. In the 1980s, Dickson was an early member of the downtown collective Colab and presented solo exhibitions at FUN Gallery as well as at Fashion Moda in the South Bronx, and worked with her husband, Charlie Ahearn, on the production of the seminal hip-hop film Wild Style (1982). She initiated the Messages To the Public artists' series for the Public Art Fund, inviting then-unknown friends including Jenny Holzer, Keith Haring, and David Hammons to program artworks for Times Square’s Spectacolor billboard. In 2019, James Fuentes presented two solo exhibitions of Dickson’s work, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air followed by Slot Club.
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