Pig's Life

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    Photo: Stephen Pitkin/Pitkin Studio
Pig bristles, pig blood, steel mesh, steel handle, rope carpet, imitation fur, cloth, enamel, spray paint, and Splash Zone compound on canvas on wood
91 x 61 x 12 inches

Pig’s Life is as close to a purely aleatory (chance-guided) composition as Dial has made. Nothing representational happens in the work.

Pig’s Life is as close to a purely aleatory (chance-guided) composition as Dial has made. Nothing representational happens in the work. The rope carpet Dial often uses to suggest outlines wanders like intestines or dementia through this painting. The snipped steel mesh that frequently connotes paths or roads diffracts into fragments and dead ends. And the painting’s surface topography gives chills to the informed viewer. Dial killed one of his pigs (for food, not art) and implanted the gristle and bristles into the picture’s ground. It is therefore tempting to see Pig’s Life as an example of a traditional thrift-and-reuse economy, because the pig’s parts were allocated to various needs and nothing was “wasted.” There is the small matter of the pig’s life, though, as a being raised only for slaughter—what did life mean to the hog? And pig bristles, which lash the surface, are used to manufacture paintbrush bristles: Pig’s Life, then, is also about relationships between art and meaning, or art and death. This is a pervasive second layer in Dial’s work of the last several years: a statement about the nature of art. The pig’s death made possible the artmaker’s raw materials, bristle brushes (and the pig’s blood is also scumbled like a paint), and yet the bristles are the picture, too, burrowing a rabbit hole into the unstable world of life and death where art attempts to stake out positions and provide meanings that shape slaughter into acceptable forms. The pig purees with the brush to make a ground negotiating between life and death, beast and man, chaos and art. Dial himself comes up empty; he cannot find any communion with the pig, except through the respectfulness of preserving something of its life in his art. The piece’s random compositional effects disclaim any longing for the false consciousness of empathy or brotherhood. The pig is a long, long way from the tiger.

Moreover, in naming the work Pig’s Life, Dial introduces a decidedly political tone. “Pig” is a universal epithet of dehumanizing otherness, spattered alike on women, minorities, ethnicities, classes, and religions. From the simple devastation of the title’s wordplay two more layers of the work emerge: the exploration of a fundamental otherness—in this instance, the difference between man and animal—and autobiography—the other three layers overlaid. The pig’s life is the artist’s life and the black male’s life. No matter how disavowed, empathy creeps in anyway.

A final liberating dismay in Pig’s Life is Dial’s mindfulness that the violence inherent in making cannot ever be sidestepped, in art or other human affairs. Art offers no escape, to Dial’s tigers or anything else, and cannot but be a morally charged enterprise. That realization, like consciousness, is its own(ly) redemption. —Paul Arnett