Lot 45
  • 45

John Currin

Estimate
1,200,000 - 1,800,000 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • John Currin
  • The Owens
  • signed and dated 94 on the overlap
  • oil on canvas
  • 87.6 by 66.7cm.; 34 1/2 by 26 1/4 in.

Provenance

Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York 

Susan and Lewis Manilow, Chicago

Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York 

Gagosian Gallery, New York

Collection of David Hoberman, Los Angeles

Acquired directly from the above by the present owner in 2013

Exhibited

New York, Andrea Rosen Gallery, John Currin, 1994

Amsterdam, Stedelijk Museum, Wild Walls, 1995, p. 76, incorrectly illustrated

Literature

Kara Vander Weg and Rose Dergan, Eds., John Currin, New York 2006, p. 137, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

“I long for California where I grew up… When I see the yellow grassy hills of Northern California and the way that the clouds go behind them, it makes me want to cry. I wanted to make that place."

John Currin in conversation with Rochelle Steiner in: Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), John Currin, 2003, p. 85.

There are few painters today that revere the figure, especially that of women, more than John Currin. With an unabashed candour, his art thoroughly engages with the trope of woman-as-sex-object; grotesquely ripe for plucking and above all fiendishly seductive. Currin’s true genius lies in his ability to re-invent the tired category of painting by fluidly metamorphosing between pluriform repositories of both kitsch and academic imagery. In The Owens we are taken on a slippery trajectory that navigates the Middle American imagery of Norman Rockwell, embraces the tenderness of Francois Boucher's Shepherd and Shepherdess Reposing and magnificently parodies the celestial buoyancy of Tiepolo’s skies. Subliminally evoking the pantheon of art history rather than directly quoting it, Currin’s complete disregard for chronology and the canonised understanding of high and low art forms has permitted him to wholly reinvent the practice of figurative painting.

Painted in 1995, The Owens is a relative rarity within Currin’s oeuvre in that its subject is an archetypal, Californian couple set against a glorious blue sky with white fluffy clouds. Known primarily during this period for paintings which depicted a sometimes cruelly caricatured version of womanhood, in The Owens the artist equips his practice with a melancholic bent. Born and raised in Northern California, the idyllically pictured, sun-drenched landscape featured in the present work holds a particular place in the artist’s memory. Speaking of this nostalgic element Currin remarked, “I long for California where I grew up… When I see the yellow grassy hills of Northern California and the way that the clouds go behind them, it makes me want to cry. I wanted to make that place. The girls were only there because you have to have something in the centre” (John Currin in conversation with Rochelle Steiner in: Exhibition Catalogue, Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art (and travelling), John Currin, 2003, p. 85). The few works that capture the landscape of the artist’s youth, therefore, are amongst his most tender, a profoundly personal reworking of his signature theme. Succinctly summing up the importance of The Owens, Currin eulogised, “I think that being able to represent the world – the sky and sunlight – is one of the most lovely powers you can have” (ibid., p. 86).

Explaining the inspiration for his work to critic Robert Rosenblum, Currin recalled: “It's always me remembering an old master and combining it with contemporary ad images, those are the two things that compel me” (John Currin quoted in: Robert Rosenblum, 'John Currin by Robert Rosenblum', BOMB Magazine, No. 71, Spring 2000, online resource). This practice, which is rooted in the real imagery of art history and popular culture, is conflated with an element of fantasy through Currin’s unusual technique. He first makes rapid, small sketches that are then enlarged, emphasising and exaggerating any initial flaws to give the final work Currin’s signature satirical edge. Indeed, it is this curious dichotomy between fantasy and reality, between imagined scenario and concrete external referent that lends The Owens its constant intrigue. Observing The Owens we are immediately struck by the kitsch aesthetic of this buxom blonde and sun kissed suitor, an almost post-pop reworking of Jeff Koons’ prepubescent musing on the Adam and Eve theme in Naked, 1988. The curvaceous, light clouds in the background appear to mock the historical weight of those in Tiepolo’s Apotheosis of Spain yet neither of these references are made explicit. As viewers we are merely invited to concoct these art historical connections but are simultaneously reminded that The Owens is not a direct quote but a fantastical reinterpretation of myriad sources – Currin’s unique way of reinvigorating the rigorous, academic process of figurative painting within an age of post-Pop, post-modern process art.

Currin came to prominence at the turn of the 1990s with his first one-man show at Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York in 1992, which included small format paintings that took as their subject suburban women. During the period from 1992 through to 1998, Currin’s work embraced vacant typologies that ranged from pneumatic, sexualised blondes to mismatched couples. The Owens inhabits a more unusual, softer place within this figurative lineage, bathed as it is in the glow of nostalgia. As Currin expands, “I like my early ideas; they are clever, their spirit is clever, and some of them are quite beautiful”, indeed, the languishing country couple in The Owens can only be described as beautiful (John Currin in conversation with Rochelle Steiner in: op. cit., p. 83). 

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