John Currin (born 1962) is an American painter. He is best known for satirical figurative paintings which deal with provocative sexual and social themes in a technically skillful manner. His work shows a wide range of influences, including sources as diverse as the Renaissance, popular culture magazines, and contemporary fashion models. He often distorts or exaggerates the erotic forms of the female body.
Currin was born in Boulder, Colorado, and grew up in Connecticut, where he studied painting privately with a renowned traditionally trained Russian artist from Odessa, Ukraine, Lev Meshberg.
He went to Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, where he obtained a BFA in 1984, and received a MFA from Yale University in 1986.
In New York City in 1989 he exhibited a series of portraits of young girls derived from the photographs in a high school yearbook, and initiated his efforts to distill art from traditionally clichéd subjects. In the 1990s, when political themed art works were favored, Currin brazenly used bold depictions of busty young women, mustachioed men and asexual divorcés, setting him apart from the rest. He used magazines like Cosmopolitan along with old issues of Playboy for inspiration for his paintings. When criticized for being sexist, Currin did not deny it, but did remark that he felt that “at that time [he] didn’t feel like a man and [he] didn’t feel like a woman.”
In 1992, a subsequent exhibition focused, less sympathetically, on well-to-do middle-aged women. Nonetheless, by the late 1990s Currin’s ability to paint subjects of kitsch with technical facility met with critical and financial success, and by 2003 his paintings were selling “for prices in the high six figures”. More recently, he has undertaken a series of figure paintings dealing with unabashedly pornographic themes.
He has had retrospective exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago and is represented in the permanent collections of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, and Centre Pompidou, Paris and the Tate Gallery.
Currin is based in New York City.