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John Currin

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American painter John Currin intertwines the beautiful and grotesque with equal measure in his caricatures of lusty, doe-eyed female figures often portrayed in gross proportions that both enchant and repel. Drawing on a broad range of cultural influences from Renaissance oil paintings to 1950s women’s magazine ads and contemporary politics and pornography, his work is notable for its mix of technical virtuosity with mash-ups of high and low culture.

Since the 1990s, John Currin has reigned as one of the art world's greatest provocateurs residing on the double-edged sword of desire and disgust. His work, which mingles an early training in classical painting with a decidedly American palate for the absurdity found in kitsch, presents figurative portraits, often nude, that reflect the perversity within our culture's obsession with beauty and perfection. Although he is often accused of misogynistic tendencies due to his jarring subject matter, he contends his presentations are intended as satirical references to society's ever-present barrage of the elusive "ideal" fed to us through art history, media, advertising, and the glossy pages of magazines. This exploration into vanity continues to inform his work today.

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John Currin (born 1962) is an American painter based in New York City. He is best known for satirical figurative paintings which deal with provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skillful manner. His work shows a wide range of influences, including sources as diverse as the Renaissance, popular culture magazines, and contemporary fashion models. He often distorts or exaggerates the erotic forms of the female body, and has stressed that his characters are reflections of himself rather than inspired by real people. "His technical skills", Calvin Tomkins has written, "which include elements of Old Master paint application and high-Mannerist composition, have been put to use on some of the most seductive and rivetingly weird figure paintings of our era."

Currin was born in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in Connecticut, the son of a physics professor from Connecticut and a piano teacher from Oklahoma. In Connecticut he studied painting privately with a renowned and traditionally trained Russian artist from Odessa, Ukraine, Lev Meshberg. He went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he obtained a BFA in 1984, and received a MFA from Yale University in 1986.

At White Columns in New York City in 1989 he exhibited a series of portraits of young girls derived from the photographs in a high school yearbook, and initiated his efforts to distill art from traditionally clichéd subjects. In the 1990s, when political themed art works were favored, Currin brazenly used bold depictions of busty young women, mustachioed men and asexual divorcés, setting him apart from the rest. He used magazines like Cosmopolitan along with old issues of Playboy for inspiration for his paintings. In 1992 Currin moved to the Andrea Rosen Gallery, focusing, less sympathetically, on well-to-do middle-aged women. Nonetheless, by the late 1990s Currin's ability to paint subjects of kitsch with technical facility met with critical and financial success, and by 2003 his paintings were selling "for prices in the high six figures" after he moved to the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea. More recently, he has undertaken a series of figure paintings dealing with unabashedly pornographic themes, saying "One motive of mine is to see if I could make this clearly debased and unbeautiful thing become beautiful in a painting".

He has had retrospective exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and is represented in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the Tate Gallery. Currin's Whitney retrospective of 2004 showcased the development of his career through over 40 of his displayed paintings.

In 1994 Currin met artist Rachel Feinstein at a gallery in which she was living in a self-made gingerbread house as a performance piece. However, Feinstein specializes in sculptural work. They were engaged two weeks later at Currin's show in Paris, and married three years later on Valentine's Day. They have two sons and a daughter. She has been described as his muse, which he says is "kinda corny". However, he has stated "[W]hen I met Rachel I felt that I could connect with some principles that moved my art along, that I had some freedom from the petty things in my own personality." Feinstein has appeared in many of Currin's paintings, both as a recognizable face and as a body model. In 2002 Feinstein and Currin published a 24-page book of their works at the Hydra Workshop in Hydra, Greece which they titled The Honeymooners, John Currin and Rachel Feinstein. It includes an interview conducted by Sadie Coles. In 2011 the New York Times described them as "the ruling power couple in today’s art world.

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John Currin Artworks
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