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Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project

Jane Dickson Hot! Hot! Hot! Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project Howl A/P/E Volume 1, No. 36



Whose World Is This? Deborah Frizzell

As an artist, Jane Dickson is compelled to witness, examine, and interpret. She works with the tools at hand, with observation and analysis distilled in paint. Figuration, her vehicle of expression, is flexible enough to accommodate either a narrative impulse or poetic metaphor. The figure invites projection and identification for artists and viewers alike. Dickson engages in translating the ecstasies and miseries of life within the man-made grid of the metropolis, revealing its effects on the body, psyche, and spirit. In her nocturnal views of a seedy Times Square, garish Las Vegas casinos, local carnivals, and commercial strip malls, she deploys a variety of rich color pigments on Astroturf, sandpaper, felt, and other culturally loaded support materials. Without flinching or missing a beat, she makes work that interferes with the homogenized business-as-usual narratives layered within the networks of mass media. Her art fearlessly hones in on our changing cultural landscapes, the unquestioned background room tone of daily life, and the relations between the shrinking public spaces of the street and the seemingly endless spheres of representation in the virtual web doppelganger. I paint what I fear: macho realms, Times Square, Las Vegas, strip clubs, demo derbies, highways, and garages; the unwelcoming, often dangerous, “man’s” world. The challenges of being a woman, operating in male domains where I rarely “belong,” agitating for respect and resources beyond what I’m usually offered, have shaped my personality and my work.I

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Rooted in the street as a site for public intervention, as a place to seek out alternative stories and ways of being, Dickson works with the existing repertory of cultural imagery and reveals the slippage or difference prompted in the interplay of power and illusion in contemporary America, particularly from a feminist perspective that has been ignored and erased from view. Rather than a smoothly polished verisimilitude or a crafted collage of fragments, Dickson’s rough-cut method often disorients, jars our senses, and doubles the vertigo induced by obliquely angled perspectives or alternatively, flattened peepholes and cubicles. She examines our appetites and capacities for collective and individual memory, spatial and psychic memory, and the politics and aesthetics of public space.

In college Dickson studied animation, and soon after her arrival in New York, she got a job working on the Spectacolor computer billboard above Times Square, the neighborhood where she worked on and off from 1978-2008. If New York City was considered “Sin City,” then Times Square was the deepest level of Dante’s Inferno, a den of predators and victims, pimps, perps, addicts, and hustlers. Dickson’s night-shift design job offered a clear-eyed view of urban noir; the brutal, neon-flecked architectural space compressing human desire and violence, testing each person’s capacity to absorb both wild fantasy and intensified reality. By 1979, Dickson had become part of Colab (aka Collaborative Projects, Inc.), a radical collective of downtown New York artists, known for its ad hoc experimental art exhibitions that pushed the limits of artistic categories and launched graffiti and street art. Dickson and her peers became specialists in creating "guerrilla art exhibitions," installed temporarily in non-commercial, non-institutional venues. Their nomadic exhibitions and events joined together neighborhoods and artists; they became engaged in the dynamics of activism, resistance, and negotiation, as well as in redefining a new art-of-the-street. In 1980 Dickson made her mark in The Times Square Show, Colab’s exhibition in an abandoned massage parlor, now considered a cultural landmark for its DIY multimedia mix of film, painting, dance, slide shows, music, 3-D works, prints, cartoons, and graffiti. In this show at Howl! Happening gallery, Dickson’s paintings from the 1990s and 2000s reference the period right before Times Square’s blocks of concentrated desire, desperation, and vice were being gradually replaced by what the popular press called “Disneyfication.” Today the Disney flagship store—We can't stop sprinkling the pixie dust! II—prominently resides in Times Square. Its clones create elaborate artificial environments—Main Street U.S.A.—designed to appear "absolutely realistic," taking visitors' imaginations to a past that is an illusion. III This realistic looking fake makes it even more desirable for people to purchase the illusion as consumers. The system enables visitors to feel that technology and the created atmosphere of Disneyfication is “better” and more desirable than nature. Immersion in a hyperreal space like a Disneyland, a computer game, a home entertainment center, a movie, or a casino gives the subject the impression that she is walking through a fantasy world where everyone is playing the game. Jane Dickson’s art has punctured the hermetically sealed game of games. As an artist she was formed during the hybrid percolation of 1980s New York City. She developed critical insight into our increasingly media-saturated world and its effects on perception and desire. Key to bearing witness is the visual translation about what is often hidden from view within the systems of mass media and media streams. Dickson developed a studio practice, methodology, and lexicon to express what was nascent and not fully recognizable, and what at an accelerated pace is streaming from our ubiquitous array of smartphones, tablets, and other electronic gadgets to structure our psyches.


Jane Dickson, Casino Culture, Cultural Politics, Vol. 14, No. 3 (November 2018); 350. See [Online]: https://www.inc.com/peter-economy/15-motivating-disney-quotes-that-willinspire-your-success.html [Accessed December 2019] Umberto Eco, Travels In Hyperreality (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986), 43.

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Peep Show Eye, 1992 Oil on Astroturf 41 x 41 inches



Paradise Alley, 1983 Oil stick on canvas 90 x 40 inches




Live Girls


Live Girls: No. 02, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches



Live Girls: No. 03, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 9 x 11 inches



Live Girls: No. 06, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches Live Girls: Melody Burlesque No. 02, 1993 Oil stick and Roll-A-Tex on canvas 75 x 40 inches



Live Girls: No. 08, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches



Live Girls: No. 09, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 9 x 11 inches




Previous Spread (L, R) Live Girls: No. 18, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 6.5 inches Live Girls: No. 30, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 13 x 9 inches 26

Live Girls: No. 32, 1992 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches



Live Girls: Cheeks Spread, 1993 Oil on canvas 31 x 31 inches



Live Girls: Knee Up, 1993 Oil on canvas 38 x 38 inches Live Girls: Standing, 1993 Oil on canvas 38 x 38 inches





Previous spread (L, R) Live Girls: No. 26, 1994 Live Girls: No. 25, 1994 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches



Live Girls: No. 37, 2001 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 17 x 19 inches



Live Girls: No. 36, 2001 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 18 x 18 inches



Live Girls: No. 41, 2017 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 9 x 11 inches



Live Girls: No. 40, 2017 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches



Live Girls: No. 03, 2017 Oil stick on Emery Cloth 11 x 9 inches







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Peep: No. 07, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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Peep: No. 06, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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Peep: No. 05, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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Peep: No. 02, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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Peep: No. 08, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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Peep: No. 04, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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Peep: No. 03, 1992 Oil and pumice on canvas 57 x 40 inches

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All Male: No 04, 1993 Oil stick on sandpaper 9 x 13 inches

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All Male: No. 02, 1992 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches



Chippendales, 1993 Oil stick on Rototex screen print 69 x 123 inches


Jane in Peepland: The Painter of Modern Life Miss Rosen

Jane Dickson was just 25 when she arrived in New York in 1977. The following year she began working the weekend night shift as an animation designer operating the Spectacolor billboard at One Times Square—the first computer light board in New York City—bringing a woman’s perspective to a low-down dirty world. Times Square in the 1970s had become the red-light capital of the Eastern Seaboard. The Theater District offered a new kind of show happening at all hours, in and out of doors. Pimps, prostitutes, and hustlers walked the streets, peddling pleasures of the flesh. Strip clubs, XXX theaters, brothels, and sex shops lined the strip, catering to any peccadillo imaginable. The Great White Way had added a sequined thong to her sparkling tiara. As Broadway’s glitter turned to grit, Dickson became fascinated by the world in which she both worked and lived.

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In 1981, she and husband Charlie Ahearn moved into a dilapidated building on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue that they kept until 1992. Eager

to capture her impressions of life, Dickson set up a studio around the corner with a view of the Peepland eye. Dickson later moved her studio to 39th and Ninth Avenue where she worked until 2008—her 30-year stint nothing short of a true New York marathon. An observer of modern life among a sea of voyeurs, Dickson was drawn to the vibrant spectacle unfolding on the streets every day and night. Rather than offer a critique, Dickson tells it like it is. Her scenes of Times Square evoke the sublime wonder of a once grand empire reduced to rot, as voracious as it ever was. But the decadence of late capitalism as it played out on the Deuce was simply not enough. “I was observing my own life and challenging myself to make art about what I was witnessing and trying to figure out as a young woman,” Dickson says. “I realized that I can’t just paint signs and sidewalks. I needed to go inside the clubs.” Jennifer Kabat, a Master’s candidate at Columbia University stripping her way through school, became Dickson’s model, confidant, and guide to the underworld that forbid unescorted women from entering clubs alone, lest they be a prostitute. Dickson went with Ahearn, who eventually bowed out. Then she began searching for others—an art dealer, a lawyer—to accompany her into a world designed to cater to the male gaze. Behind the flashing neon lights and shiny facade, another truth awaited Dickson’s watchful eyes. Here, the war of the sexes played out in a dark, smoky club, with women of all shapes and sizes put on pedestals where they would play a heavily gendered role for tips. The mafia-run clubs were the epitome of the patriarchy, yet within this paradigm, subversion teased, tantalized, and transgressed Puritanical presumptions of morality about those who dared to strip. Under the red lights, women transformed themselves into subject and object at the same time, using their agency to participate in a system that considered them expendable. But at a time before porn was ubiquitous, it was take what you can get: flat, saggy, untoned, untanned, unaugmented flesh. It was a job, but it was not professionalized. Instead it was a raw, unvarnished, naked display of power, desire, and need, locked in a timeless battle played out over and over again across the highly contested landscape of the female body. “I felt like a woman hadn’t really documented this scene,” Dickson says. “It’s all about woman as object. So as woman as observer, which is my role, I am showing it the way it looks: less titillation and more grit. What I captured, particularly in the strippers is—they are working. They are beat. I felt like, I am doing a different kind of work in Times Square, but I am a working girl too. Like every woman, I perform.” 1212 73



Gaiety: No. 01, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches



Gaiety: No. 03, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 12 x 8 inches

Gaiety: No. 05, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches



Gaiety: No. 06, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches

Gaiety: No. 07, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches



Gaiety: No. 08, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches

Gaiety: No. 09, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 11 x 9 inches



Gaiety: No. 11, 1994 Oil stick on sandpaper 9 x 11 inches



Three Graces: Nos. 01, 02, and 03, 2017 Acrylic on carpet Each 73 x 30 inches



Cameo, 2019 Oil stick on linen 48 x 30 inches



Puddle Jumping, 2014 Acrylic on black plastic 22 x 14 inches



Dreams: No. 02, 2019 Oil stick on linen 48 x 30 inches


Jane Dickson: Times Square Revisited Carlo McCormick

It was called the Tenderloin, not for any array of fancy steakhouses but because in a society of graft and corruption it offered the choicest cuts. Populated by pimps, prostitutes, chicken hawks, hustlers, and all manner of predators, Times Square, New York City, was in its way a kind of meat market, catering to a most wanton hunger like a craven fear of loneliness in which the crowds there danced to…a lost tune of collective solitude, a feeding frenzy of desire, a 24-7 repast of dubious satisfaction. And it was then, for its time, the paradigmatic commons, a public space in which the private is made indiscrete. This is where Jane Dickson lived and worked, where she raised a family and found her voice as a singular artist of America’s fever dream.

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It is quite likely the sun shone upon Times Square as it does everywhere else, but we never saw it, nor does there seem to be much trace of daylight in Dickson’s paintings from that time. What the place promised was utterly nocturnal, made of neon glares and furtive shadows, never quite natural, just as artificial as the flesh it offered. This is the Deuce that resides in our collective memory

still. Dickson, whose day job was a night shift, understood the dazzle as a kind of desire unto itself, what pierces the dark as it is enveloped by it, revelatory yet clandestine like the peep shows there that became her mimetic muse. Her employment as well was also in light, operating the legendary Spectacolor light board from a perch high above the news zipper at One Times Square, where she would program all the ads of this modern-day society of the spectacle, run the fabled New Year’s Eve countdown, as well as curate guest artist projects ranging from Keith Haring to Jenny Holzer that constituted some of the most seminal downtown to uptown cross-pollinations of the era. There she would leave the drab, dreary, and nasty world of this daytime demimonde, and as the sun set watch it come alive in a blazing neon glory. Out of this light and darkness, this mad confluence of illumination, intoxication, and ignominy in that sunless carnal cavern, Jane Dickson crafted a new kind of chiaroscuro, as moody as Rembrandt, haunted as Goya, and perverse as Caravaggio, but never so much a play between contrasts as a bewildering bleeding of one into the other. This is the interstice of Dickson’s degenerate cityscape, never so much a dichotomy as a mutuality, the private intimacies of self subsumed in the guise of anonymity; the frisson of the flaneur lost in the crowd, the chance meeting, casual and coded, within the mix. Times Square represents the great crossroads of consumer capitalism and the city itself, where the human condition meets unseen forces and irresistible temptations in a betwixt that has had mythic meaning from hoodoo to the blues as a topography of liminality. And this is what this Sodom on the Hudson offered small-town, small-minded America: congregation in a zone of seemingly limitless possibility. Jane Dickson has no illusions about the Deuce of yore, and would not propose her paintings as any kind of nostalgia. For her it was seedy, creepy, and dangerous, but it was also full of life and potential. It remains the last hegemonic disruption at a moment when the industrial and electronic eras slipped past one another, befitting Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s notion of the carnivalesque as that place hardwired into the human psyche where rationality and order are upended in the sensual. A young female out-of-town artist who landed in the middle of this mayhem, Jane recognized a pivotal time and place and how historic it actually was—not because it was sleazy but because it was indeed so wide open. Pre-AIDS and pre-gentrification it was the city socially untethered in the wee hours before the eventual lockdown. It was the kind of lie you could believe in, a two-bit con job hustle that only gained currency when you participated in it, and to this she brought rare witness from her own distinct vantage. And however Times Square may be viewed in the end, be it with desire or dread, in her paintings you can still feel the abject loneliness of the self amidst the rush and crush of the many. As society continues to get fragmented and separated, it is worthy here to remember this place for what it was, something like the graffiti scene that likewise inspired her: one of the singular sites where myriad difference converged across the usual boundaries of race, class, and sexuality.

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Arturo Vega Foundation Lalo Quiñones Jane Friedman Donovan Welsh BG Hacker Board of Advisors Dan Cameron Curt Hoppe Carlo McCormick Marc H Miller Maynard Monrow Lisa Brownlee James Rubio Debora Tripodi Howl! Board of Directors Bob Perl, President Bob Holman, Vice President BG Hacker, Treasurer Nathaniel Siegel, Secretary Riki Colon Jane Friedman Chi Chi Valenti Marguerite Van Cook, President Emeritus In Memoriam of our Beloved Board Member, Brian (Hattie Hathaway) Butterick Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project Founder and Director: Jane Friedman Gallery Director: Ted Riederer Assistant Director: Josh Nierodzinski Digital Content Manager: Jake Couri Director of Education: Katherine Cheairs Program Coordinator: Daniel Wallace Registrar/Archive: Daniel A. Silva Collection Manager: Corinne Gatesmith Preparator: David Gimbert Marketing and Public Relations: Susan Martin Gallery design: Space ODT/Teddy Kofman Creative Consultant: Some Serious Business/Susan Martin Gallery Photographer: Jason Wyche

Jane Dickson Hot! Hot! Hot! Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project January 9–February 23, 2020 Howl! Archive Publishing Editions (Howl! A/P/E) Volume 1, No. 36 ISBN: 978-1-7338785-7-9 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Howl! A/P/E. © 2020 Deborah Frizzell © 2020 Sara Rosen © 2020 Carlo McCormick Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project 6 East 1st St. NY, NY 10003 www.HowlArts.org 917 475 1294 Editor: Ted Riederer Copy Editor: Jorge Clar Design: Jeff Streeper

The Arturo Vega Project: Jane Friedman

Howl! Happening takes its name from the unpredictable, free-form happenings of the 60s and 70s, where active participation of the audience blurred the boundary between the art and the viewer. More to be experienced than described, Howl! Happening curates exhibitions and stages live events that combine elements of art, poetry, music, dance, vaudeville, and theater—a cultural stew that defies easy definition. For more than a decade, Howl! Festival has been an annual community event—a free summer happening in and around Tompkins Square Park, dedicated to celebrating the past and future of contemporary culture in the East Village and the Lower East Side. The history and contemporary culture of the East Village are still being written. The mix of rock and roll, social justice, art and performance, community activism, gay rights and culture, immigrants, fashion, and nightlife are even more relevant now. While gentrification continues apace and money is king, Howl! Happening declares itself a spontaneous autonomous zone: a place where people simultaneously experience and become the work of art. As Alan Kaprow, the “father” of the happening, said: “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid and indistinct as possible.”




Profile for Modern IDENTITY Inc.

Jane Dickson Hot! Hot! Hot!  

Published n the occasion of the exhibition Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project Howl A/P/E Volume 1, No. 36

Jane Dickson Hot! Hot! Hot!  

Published n the occasion of the exhibition Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project Howl A/P/E Volume 1, No. 36