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 cliché 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.
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.
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.