By Erin Fae
John Currin is one of contemporary art’s hip Americans. One of the most famous painters working today, his explicitly erotic pieces garner international attention. Currin uses everything from old Playboys and 1970s Danish porn to B-movies and classic painting as his source material. But what’s really notable about Currin is the mastery with which he paints.
A figurative painter, his works are in the style of the Renaissance masters. Using classic techniques (and sometimes settings), much of his work subverts the genre by depicting graphic sexuality. The characters in his paintings posses a softness and sensuality, but most are also somewhat exaggerated. Often, there is something grotesque about the features, body or proportions. A woman may have supple skin, a sensuous belly, but breasts that defy all gravity and direction. A piece may feature a luscious womanly shape, but a face with features that are all but repulsive. The works are undeniably erotic, but perhaps not sexy.
Many have suggested that Currin objectifies and dislikes women. Is this because of the mixture of the beautiful and the grotesque? Or is it merely because of the subject matter? It’s the same dismissive argument used against pornography, without considering the individual works or films.
I’m still not sure if I like Currin’s work, but I am interested by it, intrigued, even; and also, by him as a person. In interviews, he presents himself as an intelligent, thoughtful man who is devoted to his family, especially to his wife whose luminous face often makes appearances in his work. I find I am drawn to the idea of him, even if I am not sure I like his art.
Currin just had a new show at New York City’s well-known Gagosian Gallery. The works featured are the sort that have made Currin famous, though this time, men are much ignored, and we see more sapphic twosomes and threesomes. For the first time I have a crush on one of Currin’s women. She’s sublime, draped in a sheer black robe, has delicious pert breasts and a string of pearls wrapped around her wrist. But if you look closely, you can see that there’s still something strange about her face. Currin has said that these women only exist in his painting. If that’s true, please, paint me in.