John Currin (b. 1962) is a virtuoso painter whose work draws from a startlingly diverse inventory of cultural reference—from Renaissance paintings to porn magazines. His edgy imaginings of women in pneumatic full bloom or sagging decline and his pointed, iconographical depictions of class are rendered, paradoxically, with all the technical refinements and mannerisms of classical oil painting. In recent compositions, he sardonically equates women as sex objects with precious porcelain accoutrements, forcing a contemplation of the work that is as complex as it is titillating.
When philosopher/critic Arthur C. Danto reviewed Currin’s 2004 Whitney Museum midcareer retrospective for The Nation, he dubbed Currin “one of the brightest art stars of the early 21st century.” Pointing to the artist’s rising market value, the “political incorrectness” of his lascivious images, and his high mannerist aesthetics, Danto noted, “At a time when most of his contemporaries would cite Warhol, Duchamp and Nauman among their influences, Currin invokes Bruegel, Cranach and Parmigianino.”
Currin told Calvin Tompkins in a 2008 New Yorker profile, “I’ve always felt insecure about being a figurative artist and about being an American painter. To me, oil painting is inherently European. My technique is in no way comparable with that of a mid-level European painter of the nineteenth century. They had way more ability and technical assurance. It’s like learning to play tennis when you’re four or five years old—you know things you don’t even know you know. I suppose in the end what I do is my version of being progressive—that I thought my only chance was to regress in the face of everything. I wanted my paintings to be difficult—I just didn’t think they’d be difficult in this way.”