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I’ll keep myself the only person humiliated by this painting.”A few days before this first studio visit, my wife and I had had dinner at an uptown restaurant with Currin and Rachel Feinstein, his wife, who is also an artist.Their marriage, which is now in its tenth year, has been a dovetailing of contrary qualities whose symbiosis fascinates and occasionally irritates their less ecstatically married friends.On either side of her, the other two—one nude, one wearing a chic cocktail dress unzipped in back—touch her erotically.The canvas is eighty-eight inches high by sixty-eight wide.painting shows three young women standing close together in a room.The woman in the middle faces us directly, head held high; her dress is falling open, and her bra has been pulled down to expose both breasts.The faces of the women have very little detail as yet.

One motive of mine is to see if I could make this clearly debased and unbeautiful thing become beautiful in a painting.”More than any artist I know, John Currin exemplifies the productive struggle between self-confidence and self-doubt.

He often uses his own hands, arms, or face (viewed in a mirror) for the initial image, in preference to hiring live models.

“When I get people to pose for me, it almost never works,” he explains.

Forty-five years old, tall (six feet three), and good-looking in the open-faced American way, he currently rides a wave of success that has drowned out most (but not all) of his early detractors, and brought him international acclaim.

His technical skills, which include elements of Old Master paint application and high-Mannerist composition, have been put to use on some of the most seductive and rivetingly weird figurative paintings of our era—an era when figurative painting has gradually returned from the periphery to the mainstream.


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