PaperCity Magazine

September 2019- Fort Worth

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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 on its meaning. I'm not in control of its meaning. I'm only in control of its making. I feel that with figurative art — and with all art — you're not in control of what it will mean to people. You're just rolling the ball down that hill, and then watching where it will go on its own. I only know what I set into motion. I'm not in control of what happens after that. Let's talk about another work coming to Dallas, Hot Pants. Part of the appeal of Hot Pants is the image, which was from a fairly well- known cigarette ad — I think it might have been Camel — from when I was a little kid. Some of that is the creation by the copy editor at the ad agency who made it up. But, for me, it's my memory of that ad. I remembered it, and then lo and behold, I found it, and I thought: It's a painting waiting to be made. That painting is weird because it started as a very funny, open-hearted painting, and I think it ended as a very, very solemn and somber painting. That wasn't my intention, or in my control, but that's what happened. I think that's one of the reasons it's a good painting. It shows three options for manhood. I kept that in the back of my head as I was painting it. That image of the man being attended to by a tailor, looking at his mirror image, just felt timeless and monumental. That's why I painted it. Then there's a painting of Jesus Christ in the show — is that your portrait? Yes, the oil drawing with the mustache. Part of me thinks it's funny. It's meant to amuse myself. If you're a painter, it's also one of the great images to paint. You can paint Jesus, you can paint naked ladies, you can paint a beautiful waterfall. There are certain things that are just meant to be painted. I was reflecting on how that could be an image made now. What does it look like to have a regular-looking guy, instead of Jesus, on a cross. It wasn't meant to be blasphemy or mockery — it was more a kind of comment on the ridiculousness of painting figuratively nowadays. And just to amuse myself, and see what it would look like. Let's finish up with The Jackass, which feels like Warren Beatty. Those were ads in Playboy magazine. They showed a handsome, successful guy with women adoring him. I didn't really invent those things — they're works of art in their own right by the production designer and the photographer — but I did think it would be interesting to make all the women hate the guy instead of loving him. The image of a completely unperturbed man being hated rather than being adored. What was it like to time travel and see all your early works come together for this show. I recently did a show with Gagosian Gallery of my sketchbooks through the years. It was just after my father passed away. It was one of those weird, reflective times. And just seeing things I hadn't laid eyes on in 20 years was a very strange experience. Any show of your old work carries that kind of hazard, and interest, and gift. Then my mother died. So I'm in the mode of thinking about my childhood. And I've been talking to my wife about this. She's been reading Carl Jung a lot, and she's trying to get me to read it. Your father was a physics professor and your mother a piano teacher. Were they pleased you became an artist. Yes, I think they were happy. To some extent, I realized this after they both died: They were an important part of my audience, in a strange way, both in a positive and negative way. I was trying to please them and trying to anger them at the same time. I didn't realize how much my motivations had been colored by what I perceived their reaction would be — whether they would hate it or love it or be ashamed of it or be proud of it, or whatever. On your practice and the provocative. Much of my motive when I'm making a painting is to recapture that sense of surprise in an image when you were a child. That's one way of explaining why I've done a number of socially provocative things. They were really just to surprise myself and to recapture that wonder of childhood. That includes frightening images, unpleasant images, pornographic images, mean-spirited images, all kinds of things. Thinking about the persistence John Currin's The Jackass (Guy in Fur with Babe Sled), 1997, at Dallas Contemporary 90 JOHN CURRIN'S THE JACKASS (GUY IN FUR WITH BABE SLED), 1997. 8 ¼" X 8". HEITHOFF FAMILY COLLECTION. © JOHN CURRIN. COURTESY GAGOSIAN.

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