John Currin: “Just don�t do things that depress you.”

John Currin, “Rotterdam,” 2006, oil on canvas, 28″ x 36″

Interview Online Director Kelly Brant just sent me some good links to interviews with painters. Here’s an excerpt from Glenn O’Brien’s lengthy conversation with John Currin, who never fails to say something amusing. His paintings are included in “Paint Made Flesh,” a group show organized by the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville that opens at The Phillips Collection on Saturday. On June 25th, Currin will discuss his work.

O�BRIEN: So when did you first paint a nude?

CURRIN: I guess when I went to art school they had models. And they did their best to make it not something you look forward to. It�s, like, early in the morning, and it�s six hours long. And you fall asleep looking at this person, and it�s not very erotic.

O�BRIEN: And the models were probably pretty gnarly, right?

CURRIN: Sometimes there�d be surprisingly great-looking models. There was this one redhead at Carnegie Mellon who was great-looking, andat Yale there were fantastic-looking models. A lot of the acting students would do modeling in the arts school, so there were some gorgeous girls, but the clich� in our school was to get either the really emaciated person or the really obese person�which is stupid, you know? The idea is to get you to be able to draw. It�s better to have good-looking people. But you�d often have the semi-homeless guy�which would be awful, you know? Especially if they got erections while you were drawing them�which is just totally gross. But I didn�t start doing nudes until I was in art school, and I tried to do, like, de Kooning and Polke and Schnabel. I tried to work like that….

CURRIN: Another big realization for me was: Just don�t do things that depress you. I realized if it depresses me, then I just don�t want to get close to it. If it brings me down, I just really can�t get into it. I think a big problem with art school is that it makes people feel like they have to be interested in everything that�s of high quality.

O�BRIEN: Yeah.

CURRIN: Donald Judd�s work is high quality, but it depresses me. And so immediately I could just say, �I don�t have to worry about Donald Judd now.� [laughs] It�s great. And I think a lot of people take a more scholarly approach where they feel like you�re supposed to study things that depress you.

O�BRIEN: Yeah.

CURRIN: But I think there�s not enough time to be interested in those things. And there�s so much that doesn�t depress me. There are aspects of repetition that also depress me. Seriality depresses me. Performance depresses me. Lack of narrative depresses me. All those kinds of cool things bring me down. So that was an important development for me, just realizing that you need to follow your pleasure, at least as a painter. I think any kind of artist needs to, no matter what you�re doing.

Paint Made Flesh,” curated by Mark Scala. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. June 20 through September 13.

Related post:
John Currin confesses in British press that stupidity is liberating


  1. I agree with CAP.

  2. But more tha his vulgar taste in sexuality, is the smug self-indulgence Currin pushes in this interview.

    Did somebody say SHALLOW?

    If the idea was to stake out the uncool as his territory then he's welcome to it. But burying your head in the sand and clinging to the immediately appealing is only to imprison sensitivities or sensibilities.

    This may be emblematic of the times and place and all that he has to say, but it's never good for art or a person.

    If Currin has/had such a problem with other streams of contemporary art, there are any number of avenues open to education in the matter. I understand Currin has had ample opportunities there, and his failure underlines an essentially conservative, lazy temperament.

    Riffing on Chardin, Rockwell and so, can't disguise an arrested development, fixated on stroke mags.

  3. The body is as relevant today as it was in the 16th or 19th centuries. People like CAP and Eva need to get over it. There are always these kinds people whining and bitching when someone who is so obviously talented gets what they deserve.

    As far as the 'fixation on stroke mags' is concerned, it takes one to know one.

    You've revealed a burning insecurity for someone posing as a self-assured, over-educated modernist.

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