PaperCity Magazine

September 2019- Dallas

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Page 44 of 131

like pulling a tooth. It's more difficult. And stranger. It's just a completely different set of motivations. It's not as pleasurable as painting a woman, but sometimes it's a lot funnier. Because I consider men ugly on the surface. Perhaps that's part of the motivation. How do I make a beautiful painting out of man? That's always been my question: how to make a beautiful painting out of flawed material. Looking at some of the pivotal p a i n t i n g s i n t h e D a l l a s Contemporary exhibition, what are we to make of 2070. Is that a self-portrait? God, I'd be lucky if I made it to 2070. The conceit was that it was my son in 2070, my 15-year old son, Francis. Although he'd be a little too young to look like that in 2070. He's got Mr. Roger's sweater. It's sort of a timeless painting. Also very Norman Rockwell. [Laughing] I found the picture in a stock catalog. I guess I gave him heroic hair, like a Greek god. I wanted him to be sort of pharaonic; that's why I put him up in the sky. Looking through the other images, Fishermen is fascinating. How do we decipher that canvas? I don't really expect people to figure anything out. It's not a puzzle like that. But I can tell you that the picture came from a dream I had. As it happened, I'd been sharing a studio for over a decade with my friend, Sean Landers, a painter. Sean and I had just separated. For the first time in my adult life, I had a separate studio from Sean. As I was making the painting, I thought I should put Sean in there as well. It was sort of an elegy for Sean and our shared life as artists. Kind of a farewell. Well, I still see Sean, but we used to paint side by side. Are you the figure on the right, with darker hair? I'm the figure on the left, which I painted with some kind of complicated mirrors. I also liked the idea of painting a seagull. I thought of a rich person who sails. They'd have paintings of birds, seafaring pictures. I wanted to invoke a certain type of painting. It's really a painting about me and Sean. And art and life. It's just incidental that it has this narrative. That's why the fish are anthropomorphized and have human expressions. That's the Greek chorus, I guess — that pile of fish. It's not really about fishing. The Kennedys is a very odd panting. You're showing a male and female aspect of the president. Now, 20 years after it's painted, people are trying on different gender roles. None of my paintings are intended to make a direct social statement. It may be inadvertent, but I don't intend it. The Kennedys came about from another dream I had — I don't often have dreams that I turn into paintings, but in those two cases, Fishermen and The Kennedys, those were vivid dreams. I dreamed I saw a painting of two Kennedys, and they were sort of on a Dust Bowl farm, like a Margaret Bourke-White photograph, like an old 1930s farm couple. When I was a kid in the '60s, you'd see all these portrait busts of Kennedy, and they're all done in that rugged, crusty style. In the dream, the painting was done with the palette knife, crusty paint on the face. I felt compelled to make the painting. But the painting goes deeper for me than that. Not so much in terms of the plot or my intentions, but as a painting and as an odd thing, a kind of compelling and beautiful thing. I didn't know much about Kennedy. I went to a bookstore and got a bunch of books and picked some pictures of Kennedy I liked. In doing the painting, I had these books lying around, and ended up reading all about PT 109, and as a side note, I got really interested in Kennedy. The significance of John F. Kennedy was more, I think, as a figure from my childhood. Maybe thinking about my parents or thinking about my parents' politics, or thinking about the social world and politics when I was a little kid. So weird. Unconscious politics, I guess. Also, for me, the face of John F. Kennedy is a kind of deity. I guess the word is icon. I was compelled to paint it as a startling image of masculinity. Very unusual and very particular; an image of masculinity from very, very early childhood. Maybe a sort of alternate father figure. But again, even though I painted the painting, I'm still only speculating Opposite page: John Currin's Fishermen, 2002, at Dallas Contemporary. This page: John Currin and wife Rachel Feinstein at home in NYC, 2011. John Currin's Jesus Christ, 1995, at Dallas Contemporary. John Currin's 2070, 2005, at Dallas Contemporary.

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