John Currin’s Imperfect Studies

So I realize that this post is quite a bit late, given that it is now October, and John Currin Works on Paper, A Fifteen Year Survey of Women was up at the Andrea Rosen Gallery over the summer.  But I thought that it would be good to write about it anyway.

So again, I must admit that I am a fan of the work. It reminds me of the strange doe-eyed characters in the paintings on the wall of my pediatrician growing up in the 70s. The colors, the style, the deformation of anatomy—big head, big eyes, big boobs.

And here is my six degrees of separation: my cousin’s son plays with John Currin’s son. So there you have it. I await my invitation to Thanksgiving dinner, with a goody bag of pencil drawn caricatures of all the guests.

What was particularly terrible, and similarly wonderful about this show, is to see the master at work, with art that was, at times, clearly not masterful. Unfortunately I chose not to photograph those pieces, and instead chose to shoot the best works in the show. All of the work that I’d seen to date, had been perfectly executed, down to the background details.

But the works in this show were quite varied, stylistically. Some were straight up pencil/charcoal on paper portraiture done in most aesthetically pleasing, idealistic realism. Others were small, gouache and watercolor on paper, quick studies, where you see John Currin exploring his technique and determining what exactly will become his signature style. And many appear to be works that are typical life drawing techniques we all learn in classic art school training: using white and black charcoal for highlights and shadow on a medium tint paper, or combining ink-and-pen with ink-and-brush washes.

The show brings insight to an artist that usually reveals only the most perfect works. His failures along with his successes make it fascinating.

I saw a picture of John Currin in a book once.  It was interesting how many of the characters he paints have faces that strangely resemble his own. A man who paints women with faces of a man. (Not to say that the women look manly.)  I don’t know if that is intentional.  My guess is that is probably is not. In my own experience, likeness is terribly difficult to attain, especially if you don’t know your subject well. So inevitably the artist falls back on his/her own image, because those features are most familiar, most studied, hence easiest to draw.

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