American painter. He completed a BFA at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh (1984) and an MFA at Yale University (1986). In his paintings of single or coupled figures Currin confronts his own desires and subjectivity, however unsophisticated, as well as a certain view of painting as a medium that in the late 20th century has become inherently kitsch. The wilfully degraded references to traditions from high culture are magnified by his custom of working to the small dimensions of conventional easel paintings. His subjects take the form of bland, caricatured portraits that picture a strange, repressed sexual longing; his women idealised in a manner that combines classical gravity and grace with crude pin-up voluptuousness, his males emasculated, their most striking quality a foppish femininity reflected from their female companions. Although flaunting bad taste, his works are given depth by his broadly handled painterly technique, often recalling that of French painters such as Edouard Manet and Camille Corot: the typically large-breasted Big Lady (1993; Rivendell Col., on permanent loan to Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, Bard Col., Cent. Cur. Stud.), recalls the tonal palette and handling of the latter. Other works make similarly uncomplicated references; Portrait (1993; Paris, R. Vifian Priv. Col.) evokes El Greco, whilst the overtly saccharine Entertaining with Mr. Acker Bilk (1995; Seattle, Donald Young Gal.) suggests the Rococo gaiety of François Boucher and Jean-Honoré Fragonard. He describes his subtle stylistic plundering as mannerist, rather than ironic, distancing his works from the socio-political involvement of many of his contemporaries.
John Currin: Works 1989–1995 (exh. cat., essays K. Seward and F. Paul, Limoges, 1995)
10 December 2000
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