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March 12, 2015

Spotlight: John Currin

Photo Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. © John Currin.

Editors' Notes

John Currin, Fortune Teller (detail), Oil on canvas, 2014.

Photo Credit: Douglas M. Parker

Editors' Notes

The Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills.
John Currin & Rachel Feinstein
Photo Credit: David Crotty

“I don’t get glee from upsetting people. I used to love it. I don’t want to do that now, and yet it happens,” said artist John Currin at the Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills on Thursday, February 19. His new solo exhibition of lush oil paintings emulates the work of Old Masters, but the initial imagery that sparked the series came from Danish pornography from the 1970s. In general, Currin’s pale and voluptuous ladies are quite different from the typical look of Los Angeles lasses. And yet they don’t seem so foreign on the walls of Larry Gagosian’s Beverly Hills gallery where the large-scale canvases hang through April 11, mere miles from the San Fernando Valley where American porn has traditionally been shot.

Currin layered each canvas with multiple sex scenes, some are part of the wallpaper in the painting and some are the focal point of the work. On many canvases, the face of the rosy-cheeked woman has a classical Renaissance quality to it, but her pose is certainly not of that era. Currin said he saw this series as his chance to make “lush French paintings with limbs and figures all over the place.” But, as he noted, his subject matter differed slightly. “Funnily enough, it ended up being pornography rather than the gods running around,” said the painter. Through the work, Currin said he wanted to acknowledge the “grandness of European culture,” but also to create art that is “not completely of that culture.” Currin explained that he needs to learn to paint subjects a certain way, and that some of the paintings evolved over years. He compared the stalemate he reaches with some works to a “kind of Vietnam, or a peace-keeping operation.”

As the New York-based artist who was born in Boulder discussed the images in this solo show, he joked that his subject matter is “the plankton of the internet.” Currin said pornographic images have very rigid structures, but he used herringbone canvas on three paintings to create an abstract effect when the viewer gets close to the image. “The super nubby canvas is spongy and you have to use more liquid,” he said. “Unless the paint was very fluid, I couldn’t predict what would happen.”

When asked about how he handles questions of gender identity and sexual politics, Currin said he’s been thinking about them more as he gets older. “More and more I worry about it,” he said. “The clunkiness of my sexism, the creepiness of it. It’s easier to get away with it when you’re younger. From a 52-year-old man, it gets creepy. But at 52 everything is always worse.”

But Currin admitted that he has changed some of his opinions as he ages. He now appreciates the work of French painter Jean Racine. “I can see the humor and the sexiness of his work,” he said. Like the Old Masters, Currin’s personal tastes inform his work. “I’m only making things that I want to see,” said the painter.

By Elizabeth Varnell


Pictured: John Currin, Fortune Teller (detail), Oil on canvas, 2014.
Photo courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery. © John Currin.

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