John Currin review – meta-painter dances on the knife edge of taste

By Adrian Searle

Sadie Coles, London
Art history collides with horrible people in Currin's disquieting canvases – and questions are asked about the reasons for painting itself

A couple share a moment of domestic complicity, smiling over something the man is reading in a newspaper. It can't be today's paper, or they'd both be screaming. Inexplicably, a white china jug is perched on the woman's greying hairdo. It is a lovely jug, perfectly rendered, perhaps placed there by a poltergeist. Hang on. Hubby also has a bunch of grapes, an apple and an old boot on his balding pate, but hasn't yet noticed, and never will. Something weird is going on among the reflections behind the lenses of his spectacles. A fly rests on the woman's hand, draped over the man's shoulder. Is the painting meant as a sort of essay on mortality? The idea is easier to brush off than the fly itself.

The same white jug also reappears on top of another woman's head in another painting. It is balanced there, offering us its dark and empty interior, by a fresh baguette. This, I think, is a reference to a Picasso still life. But this mad millinery, with its phallic and vaginal forms, is nothing to the woman herself, whose fresh-faced smile is belied by her out-of-kilter eyes, her discombobulated countenance. The more you look, the more skewed and out of proportion she is. Maybe that's why she needs a walking stick. Is her belly distended by pregnancy? Could it be wind, or dropsy? A bird perches on her knee. Or it would if it weren't so ghostly. I don't like the look of its beak. I think it flew in from some medieval phantasmagoria and settled there.

…read more

Source: John Currin review – meta-painter dances on the knife edge of taste