Ken Currie: Rictus review – grisly art games with a serious moral purpose

By Jonathan Jones

Flowers Gallery, London
True shock value is rare these days, but these gruesome yet skilled paintings of Hiroshima victims and macabre medical experiments will give you the shudders

It is getting hard for artists to shock anyone. Provocateurs such as Jake and Dinos Chapman seem sadly adrift in today's deeply strange world when a sculpture of a suicide vest elicits only a brief shrug among the much more surreal stuff reality keeps chucking at us. Ken Currie deserves credit for breaking through this moribund mood with grotesque new paintings that genuinely nauseate. You'd have to be a stone to see these without a few shudders, and anyone with a weak stomach should avoid them like the plague – and I mean a plague that causes bubbling pustules bursting out of dead flesh.

Two colossal canvases, each more than four metres wide, face each other across a fairly small space. The Flensers (2016) is a nightmarish vision of the whaling industry 100 years ago, except it is more timeless than that. Flensing is the bloody work of skinning and gutting a whale to get at its commercially valuable blubber. Gigantic pink and purple intestines swarm like foul invertebrate creatures at the centre of Currie's painting, while workers with horribly sharp and bizarrely shaped (but authentic) flensing tools go about their gruesome task. Vast strips of flayed whale skin, showing marbled red and white insides, hang above the meaty labourers as they wade among shiny guts.

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