History And Context
Dove occasionally made collages and assemblages while living on his boat, and twenty-five are known to have been created. In these works he used a variety of materials, such as the bamboo, fabric, and wood in Goin' Fishin'. His clever technique reveals his awareness of the Dadaist collages being produced in Europe and his knowledge of the American folk art revival of the 1920s (folk artists often incorporated objects from their surroundings into their work). Dove's collages and assemblages constitute a charming combination of these divergent influences.
Goin' Fishin' was interpreted by many writers on art, including Duncan Phillips, as a good-natured exposition of a Mark Twain character's fishing exploits, and others have connected it with a drowned African-American fisherman. Dove himself denied these ideas, saying that his starting point was simply an African-American man sitting on the pier.
The sleeves of a denim shirt, representing the fisherman's attire, and a piece of dark wood from the dock form the central motif of the composition. Pieces of bamboo fishing pole frame these materials in a tight semicircle. Parts of the human body are alluded to in an ambiguous but humorous manner by the central radiating configuration of bamboo, which some interpret as a skeletal hand. Small pieces of bamboo outline the denim fabric, creating an arc that is reminiscent of the arch of the fishing pole as the fisherman struggles to land a fish.
Although Phillips saw Goin' Fishin' as early as 1926 at the Intimate Gallery, he did not purchase it at that time. Phillips expressed reservations, telling Dove, "I do wish you would paint more pictures in the conventional way with brush and pigment for I think you owe it to the world to do so. Nevertheless, his opinion had changed by 1935 when he wrote to Stieglitz about the "...glow of aesthetic pleasure" he experienced every time he thought of Goin' Fishin'. In 1937, he managed to buy it, even though it had been in Stieglitz's private collection.