OLLOWING THE SUCCESS of its "Interviews by the Readers" series, which to date has included the artists Vanessa Beecroft, Maurizio Cattelan and Jeff Koons, Flash Art is pleased to present an interview with John Currin. In the spring of 2005, a newsletter was sent to Flash Art's international database inviting questions from anyone who wished to ask one. The response, once again, was overwhelming the range of questions remarkable, and the nature of them intriguing, surprising and even, at times, a little disturbing. From the questions received, a selection of the best were sent to John Currin - those he elected to respond to are presented here. Whether his depictions of the figure disgust or enchant (often a peculiar combination of the two), they always arouse admirers and detractors, not least when it comes to the question of his representations of women - in 1992 an art critic for the Village Voice, writing on his exhibition at Andrea Rosen Gallery, famously declared "Boycott this show," though accusations of bad taste or misogyny are are often drowned out by those with more illuminating approaches to his work. Labeled variously as a mannerist, caricaturist, a radical conservative or simply a "lightweight jokester," Currin continues to evade categorization. Writing in the New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl asserted "There is no such thing as a typical picture by Currin, whose style has evolved hopscotch-fashion, from one tour de force to the next." The more his oeuvre expands and develops, however, the more it becomes clear that John Currin has become the old master of contemporary art.
MAKING PAINTINGS Roberto Scala, Massa Lubrense, Italy: How do you go about starting a picture? John Currin: I don't have a method, which is one of the great sorrows of my life. I'm always in a panic until I get an idea and then I am excited. Sometimes I get the idea from something I have seen in a magazine or newspaper and other times I get the idea first and then look around me to flesh it out. Ideas are not important in themselves but they are crucial in getting me out of my chair. Jessica Schneider, Lima, Peru: How do you choose someone to portray? JC: I get an idea of a persona like the middle aged woman or the bearded man and try to feel how that translates into a painting structure or style. Sometimes I feel like painting a certain way and that suggests the persona. P. B. Van Cleve, San Diego: Have you always been afigurative painter? JC: In art school I worked in an abstract expressionist manner, but I always thought of my paintings as big faces.
Above: The Old Fence, 1999. Oil on canvas, 193 x 102 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Photo: Fred Scruton. Opposite: Anna, 2004. Oil on canvas, 61 x 46 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo: Robert McKeever. JULY SEPTEMBER
This page, from left: Thanksgiving, 2003. Oil on canvas, 173 x 132 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery and Sadie Coles HQ, London; Milestones, 2005. Oil on linen, 56 x 46 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photo: R. McKeever.
Matthew Bourbon, Texas: You've stated that you dislike most other contemporary figurative art. What specifically do you dislike and how does your work separate itself from the problems you see inherent to this genre? JC: I never got over my art school attitude about figuration. I associated it with early-rising Christians listening to Pachelbel and making paintings with 'psychological' content. The pictorial space didn't seem as interesting as in the abstract expressionism I was aping. I don't think my work is exempt from these liabilities, but we all have to accept what we are.
subtlety requires craft. Any painting comes from both states of mind, of dreaming and of controlling the dream. Craig Garrett, London: What kind of light do you paint by? JC: I prefer daylight, but I'm not an early riser and I end up turning on the lights in the evening. I've never liked my lighting setup. I should just get up earlier.
JC: If you are asking which comes first, tragedy or farce, I would put farce first. The experience is farce, the painting is the tragedy. That is why I think of myself as an expressionist rather than an ironist.
Antony Hudek, Geneva: In an interview you stated that while painting is alive, "pictorialculture" is dead.Does this shift from the death of painting to the death of pictorialculture mean thatyour paintings IN THE PAINTINGS are not so much pictorially sub-cultural as un-cultural, even deliberately Matthew Bourbon, Texas: Many ofyour uncultured? Is the profusion of stylistic paintings alter the representation of the references in your work symptomatic of a body by elongating limbs and ballooning desire to imagine a culture-less history, features. What is your interest in that is to say a history whose history is no Virginia Ackermann, London: Do you mannerist distortions of the figure? more than day-old, a ready-made paint everything yourself or do you have JC: I don't distort on purpose. I just antique? assistants? preserve what comes naturally and then JC: If you are asking whether my work is JC: Why wouldn't I paint everything let it look intentional. a kitsch pastiche of historical references myself? That's the fun part. meant to be put together as an amusing Eve Wood, Los Angeles: Like Lucian riddle the answer is no. I don't intend the Matthew Bourbon, Texas: Technical Freud, your work seems concerned with art historical references in my work. virtuosity is frequently mentioned, exploring, and in many cases exposing, whether in praise or in critique of your with a kind of hyper-ironicgusto, various WOMEN work. How important is the exhibition of elements of human tragedy as reflected in technical prowess to the aims of your the humanform. Does humor in your work Nick Stillman, New York: You once said work? function as a byproduct of tragedy, or is in an interview that a primary goal of JC: There is subtlety that comes naturally tragedy the result of a more universally yours was to transcend irony. Is this and unconsciously to me. Intentional maniacalhumor and futility? statement itself a dose of irony, and if not, 98 Flash Art JULY SEPTEMBER 2005
_Ă˝_11 This page, from left: Two Guys, 2002. Oil on canvas, 122 x 91 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York: The Hobo, 1999. Oil on canvas, 102 x 81 cm. Courtesy of Gagosian Gallery and Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. Photo: F. Scruton.
how do you consider your paintings of lusty, busty women and upper-crust WASPs? JC: When I came up with my busty, crusty girls, I was thinking how IN8tcentury artists had stock figures with standardized features and I thought that if I gave my figures all of the same afflictions, the inflated breasts and crusty faces, that the paintings could return to a state of genre or normalcy and that by torturing the figures I could make less tortured paintings. I wanted to see something other than self-loathing in my work. Katia Ceccarelli, Conegliano, Italy: People often discuss, sometimes mercilessly, your representationof women. For you, is it irony, critique,or a true vision of the world of women? JC: I was going to answer: "but I love women," but actually I don't love women, I just think about them all of the time. I love to look at women, they stimulate my imagination and not just in a sexual way. I used to love watching women hobbling in their new shoes down fourteenth street. I saw myself in them. I get a perspective on myself when looking at a woman, her beauty, her ugliness, her failures.
you continue to be associatedwith the idea of style in a classical,art historicalsense. Mara Miller, New York: How importantis What is the function of style in your work and how does it affect the viewers' reading Lucas Cranach'swork for your own? JC: My nudes are derived more from of the painted image? Hans Baldung than Cranach. What I got JC: My lack of a developed conscious style from Cranach though, was the idea of a has always been a source of great anxiety Venus with a face that he knew and loved and insecurity for me. I worry that it is the great weakness of my work. I just think that intimately. it is impossible in contemporary life for Sandro Saccocci, Padua, Italy: Is the anything like a coherent style to develop. conceptual nucleus behind your painterly Maybe this is why people see so much deformations the same as those underlying irony in my work where I see none. historicalfigures such as Ernst Ludwig THE ART WORLD Kirchner? If not, how would you say they differ? JC: Yes, my idea of my expressionism is Genco Gulan, Istanbul: Museums and that it is a childish response to repression, critics still love painters, why? a kind of tantrum. That's what I always JC: I can't speak for museums and critics, saw in the German expressionists. Their but I still love paintings, and I think that anti-intellectualism appeals to me as well. the most beautiful and moving works of art have been paintings. Your question Carmine Caputo di Roccanova, Milan: implies that there is something reactionary Do you feel that your work owes a debt to about "still" loving paintings, as if it should have ended in 1920. Picabia Otto Dix? JC: Max Beckmann and Christian Schad remarked that sex wasn't modem but was still his favorite thing. are more important to me. Ilya Lipkin, New York: Despite the popularity of stylelessness and "bad" painting in current modes of pictorial expression,
Genco Gulan, Istanbul: Do you aim to save the Academy? JC: No, and there is no academy to save. JULY SEPTEMBER
2005 FlashArt 99
-ow W-W__ Clockwise, from left: The Clairvoyant, 2001. Oil on canvas, 56 x 41 cm; Fishermen, 2002, Oil on canvas, 127 x 104 cm. The Penitent, 2004. Oil on canvas, 107 x 86 cm. All images this page courtesy of Gagosian Gallery. Photos: R. McKeever.
FAVORITES Matthieu Laurette, Paris: What is your favorite artwork? JC: My favorites change all the time, but the artists I come back to are Matthias Grilnewald, Baldung, Picasso, Botticelli, Courbet, van Gogh, Manet, V61asquez and Goya. Craig Garrett, London: What is your favorite book cover or movie poster? JC: I like the Golden Nature Guides from the 1950s, especially Weather. UNIVERSALS Gregg Chadwick, Santa Monica: What do you feel is the place of beauty in art today? JC: Beauty doesn't have a "place", it is the 100 Flash Art
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goal of any art at any time. Beauty is not the same thing as prettiness. But I think that prettiness has a place in art as well. Stefano Pasquini, Bologna, Italy: Is there a futurefor painting? JC: Not at the center of mass culture, where movies and photography will dominate.
you choose to be its director? JC: There already is a movie about me. It's The Bitter Tears of Petravon Kant by Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1972). N GiancarloPolitiis the publisher of Flash Art. John Currinwas born in Boulder,Colorado,in 1962. He
lives and works in New York. Selected solo shows: 2003: Des Moines Art Center,
THE REAL JOHN CURRIN
Iowa; The Aspen Art Museum, Colorado; Milwaukee Art Museum, Wisconsin, MCA. Chicago; Serpentine
Roberto Scala, Massa Lubrense, Italy: Do you consideryourself to be a dreamer? JC: I don't paint narratives from my dreams. But sometimes I dream that I am looking at the painting that I end up making in real life.
Gallery,London; Whitney Museum, New York. 2002: Regen Projects, Los Angeles. 2001: Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York. 2000: Monika Spriith Galerie, Cologne; Sadie Coles HQ, London. Selected group shows: 2005: "Works on Paper," GagosianGallery,Los Angeles. 2004: "Disparitiesand Deformations: Our Grotesque;, SITE Santa Fe's Fifth InternationalBiennial,SantaFe.2002: "DrawingNow:
Virginia Ackermann, London: If a movie were to be made about you, whom would
Eight Propositions:"MoMA, Queens, New York; "Dear
Painter,paintme..." CentrePompidou, Paris,Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt. 2000:
Whitney Biennial, Whitney Museum, New York.
TITLE: John Currin: An Interview by the Readers of Flash Art SOURCE: Flash Art 38 Jl/S 2005 WN: 0518203226053 The magazine publisher is the copyright holder of this articleand it is reproduced with permission. Further reproduction of this article in violation of the copyright is prohibited.
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