John Currin

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John Currin
© the artist, courtesy Sadie Coles HQ, London
John Currin, 'Rachel Asleep', 2012

These 11 paintings, all from 2012 and part of John Currin's ongoing series of female nudes, are full of contradictions. Painted both from life and from 1970s girlie mags, the poses relate both to the tacky and explicit nature of porn but also to the idealised depiction of the naked female form throughout art history. And although all of Currin's canvases demonstrate his ability to render flesh tones, in some to Old Master perfection, in others the perspective seems slightly off, the proportions not quite right and the brushwork overwrought or a bit sloppy.

It's an unsettling but intriguing mix – is Currin striving for, but not always attaining,some level of painterly perfection or, in combining different influences, is he deliberately highlighting society's, art history's, and his own conflicting views of womanhood? There are examples of the chaste beauty and voluptuous goddess (the two paintings of Currin's wife, the artist Rachel Feinstein, fit these categories) but also woman as sordid seductress.

It's not surprising that the paintings that beguile the most depict women who not only seem the most real but the most at ease with themselves, such as the smiling, ruddy cheeked subject of 'Turban', propped up on pillows with a wrap around her head like a nineteenth-century odalisque, her underarm hair the only contemporary giveaway. Likewise the relaxed subject of 'Saltwater Nymph', which could have been painted from a life class.

But even they seem troubling in this company, which includes the hollow-eyed 'Backyard Girl' and the indeterminately young subject of 'Good Beer', whose head is squashed into the corner of the picture, Gustav Klimt-style. A glass of beer rests provocatively at the top of her thigh, as if placing the same price on both herself and the tipple.

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