He never ceased to admire the great figures of classical and modern painting, from the masters of the Italian Renaissance to those of the French 19th century, and made their compositional, narrative and even chromatic resources his own, especially in the genre of portraiture, but he did not stick to canonical references and was also imbued by the world of pinups and the aesthetics of cinema or advertising.
From the dialogue between both spheres (those previously called high and low culture) comes the work of the American John Currin, possessor of high pictorial skills that he has channeled into images that combine idealism and perversion and that seduce the viewer as much as they challenge him.
The firm Gagosian presented (2019) at its headquarters in Hong Kong what is this author's first solo show in Asia: a survey of his new portraits, developed once again from Currin's belief that all adoration implies a distortion of the object or being admired. In his formative years, at Yale University in the 1980s, he cultivated an abstract expressionism that he would end up partially disavowing, considering that it implied a "forced masculinity", and would begin to explore issues linked to innocence, humor and eroticism. In the beginning he painted images of horses with a mannerist influence, girls with elegant hair, caricatures and also portraits of individuals or couples drawn in a style that was beginning to become his own.
Later would come his more realistic images and his great attention to the skin through brilliant and sensual brushstrokes that have earned him comparisons with Dutch masters of the Golden Age, such as Cornelis van Haarlem; precisely his works were exhibited alongside those of the former in 2011, at the Frans Hals Museum.
Again in 2019 the Dallas Contemporary center dedicated an exhibition to his images of masculinity, to the presence of man as a motif in his career, under the title "My Life as a Man", in reference to Philip Roth's sardonic and confessional novel about male anxieties: it consists of a parade of models with a shy and uncomfortable appearance, halfway between beauty and grotesque, between ego and balance. But the Hong Kong project pays attention to his most beloved subject: female representation, equally persistent in his latest paintings, in which he has been able to explore in depth the possibilities of female portraits.
His models, usually, seemed to be halfway between the real and the imagined, as if part of these works were born from observation and the rest from the reflection in a mirror of Cat Alley. In one of the pieces, we find a woman in classical clothing on a gray background, placing a hand delicately on her breast but giving us a delirious expression on her face; in another, the model, wearing a flowered blouse on a yellow background, smiles without enthusiasm with an inert gesture as she bends down, the painter blinding us with the vision of her body between comically and abruptly.
Something, in another of his models, reminds us of Currin's wife, Rachel Feinstein, the source of his inspiration in numerous works. She bows her head in the manner of the figures in so many classical portraits, her hair falling romantically over her bare shoulders, but her expression of loving happiness seems to be directed, not at the painter, but at the other room she is looking at: more than passion, it betrays placidity.
Although his works are often tinged with irony, born of the conjunction of what is revealed and what is not, of nostalgia and mischief, the painter's affinity and deep affection for those he portrays is even more evident to the viewer: his eloquent brushstrokes convey satire and sincerity in equal measure.