Considered one of the most recognised contemporary painters, John Currin is known for his provocative and often highly sexualised figurative oil paintings.Read More
John Currin was born in Boulder, Colorado and grew up in Connecticut. In 1984, he earned a BFA from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and two years later, an MFA from Yale University.
Begun in the late 1980s, Currin's first significant body of work was 'Yearbook Paintings' (1989—1990), a series of sexualised portraits adapted from high school yearbook photographs. The salacious nature of the work was heightened by the fact that, at the time, figurative painting was deemed unfashionable and even rebellious. In time, however, Currin became credited with sparking a renewed interest in contemporary figurative and portrait painting.
Drawing from Danish pornography, Northern Renaissance painting, pin-ups, and contemporary magazines, John Currin's works are a unique confluence of influences, which in combination tend toward the satirical in their brazen disruption of low-and high-brow hierarchies. His works are recognisable for their distinctive style and borrowing from classical painting techniques such as blended oils, soft edges, muted backgrounds, traditional compositions, and natural lighting.
Figures in Currin's works often have blushing skin, voluptuous curves, large eyes, long necks, narrow chins, and the flowing hair typical of the figures in classical European art. The treatment of bodies is deliberatively erotic; The Bra Shop (1997), for example, depicts two heavily made-up women measuring one another's exaggerated breasts, while The Red Shoe (2016) shows a smiling woman in a transparent blouse, balancing a baguette and pitcher atop her coiffed head.
Not all Currin's works are sexualised, however; Currin also often paints his children as well as his wife, the artist Rachel Feinstein. One of his most iconic works, Rachel in Fur (2002), depicts Feinstein in a soft coat and oversized sunglasses, looking downwards with a demure smile.
Since the early 2000s, John Currin's work has been shown in major galleries and institutions around the world. In 2019, Currin mounted the exhibition My Life as a Man at Dallas Contemporary. In contrast with the majority of his work, the show was comprised mostly of paintings of men.
Other major institutional exhibitions have included John Currin: Works on Paper, Des Moines Art Center (2003); and John Currin, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, travelled to Serpentine Gallery, London and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2003). Currin's works are in the collections of institutions including the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Tate Collection, London; and Centre Pompidou, Paris.
Recognised as one of the foremost living American painters, Currin's works fetch high prices in market. In 2013, the painting Bea Arthur Naked (1991) made headlines when it sold at a Christie's auction for US $1.9 million.
Elliat Albrecht | Ocula | 2021