Thursday, 5 February 2009

John Currin
Serpentine Gallery, London
1 October 2003

Heartless, 1997
Oil on Canvas 117 x 91 cm

It is a classic ¾ length portait of a young female in a gold dress with a heart shape cut out across the chest perhaps evoking the emptiness of suburban life. I know that he works from images taken the covers of Cosmopolitan magazine and this could be a reworking of such a cover model, that has been given the head of his partner Rachel Feinstein. The placement of the figure and its relationship with the edges of the frame, all reference the format of the magazine cover.

Her eyes look quite wide set and her gaze, like the typical Cosmo cover girl, is straight at the viewer. A long way from the blank ‘Damien’ stare of his High School yearbook portraits. The strangest thing about the image is what appears to be an abnormally large head. Presume this is a deliberate exaggeration, perhaps referencing the anorexia encouraged by the thinness of fashion models.

I particularly liked the ground colour of this painting, which changes from pale blue in the bottom left to cobalt blue in the top right. Overall are treads of a creamy light brown, warmer and denser in the bottom left, sparser in the top right. He has varied his handling of the paint significantly as he has developed as an artist.

Here the skin is flawless in contrast to the thick, oatmealy impasto on the earlier works. He gives his colours depth and dimension by applying paint in semitransparent layers—allowing the red to show through a brushy white velatura, for example.

The dress is green in the shadows with thick yellow, ochre and white marks over the top. Looks convincing as gold.

The Staci Boris article in the book accompanying the Serpentine exhibition claims this work as a technical breakthrough for Currin. He modelled the figure in black and white and then layered that under-painting with colour and flesh tones. "Separating form and colour hides the mechanics of the painting's structure and allows for a bravura performance to occur on the surface."[1] The method for this painting sounds like Van Eyck.

Whilst there is a sadness to the image I feel this is buried by the heavy irony associated with the source reference and Currin’s superficial humour. I do feel that the disconnect between subject and his method of painting (referencing high culture for low culture images) is interesting and worth exploring.

In his most recent work he has switched to using models, but his comments on the use of photography are interesting. "photographs are a starting point; they provide scenarios more than information. I like the faces in photographs because they are not anyone I know, which makes it very easy for me to project what I want the figures to look like right on top."

[1] Robert Rosenblum John Currin Harry N. Abrams 2003 pxx

©blackdog 2009

No comments:

Post a Comment