key-hole portrait 3.1
christian rex van minnen's art is a bit of a departure from what i normally showcase on the blog. but as i write this blog, so i write the rules...and i find christian's work to be both beautiful and captivating. i wanted to learn more about his inspirations, processes and overall thoughts. his latest series, the key-hole portraits are as dynamic as they are fantastical in their bio-morphic beauty. i found this q&a to be super thoughtful and insightful. i hope you enjoy it.
your portraits are really intense. overflowing with layers of excess skin, tumors, organs etc. often you can't even really make out faces in your subjects, yet there they are. can you tell us a little bit about your work?
i’ve always been fascinated with anatomy and physiology as well as biology and other natural sciences. however, i generally don’t work from sketches or images, but rather from abstraction. i like to create a kind of mess of an underpainting, a primordial soup of paint and information that i can see things in and pull form from. a lot of the time, this results in bio-morphic images and sometimes representational images. i have recently been utilizing this technique within the language of portraiture, creating a portrait without a sitter. the basic elements that make a painting a portrait are the geometric language of the stable pyramid, centric oval and rectangle.
it’s interesting what you said about the faces; i think that because they incorporate these basic elements of portraiture, we want to see a face completing a sentence or dialogue. by not having the eye contact or immediately recognizable facial features the viewer is left to fill in the blanks, often with aspects of ourselves.
one of the things i find really interesting about your paintings is the delivery; beautifully rendered paintings of very unpleasant beings. if you were to see these characters in real life, societal norms would dictate that we look away. yet you have a way of transforming the grotesquely bizarre into a real beauty. they're fascinating to look at. what is it about your subjects, or you for that matter, that makes you render them this way?
i suppose i have always been attracted to the grotesque because there is a truth and beauty that is inseparable from what is immediately unpleasant. our lives are filled with such unpleasant beauties and opportunities to make light of dark. i don’t paint these things with the intent to produce something explicitly unpleasant or for shock value. but at the same time it is my tendency to ‘enter the forest where it is darkest'. as joseph campbell would say “where you had once thought to find an abomination, you will find god.” i suppose i’ve got equal parts joseph campbell, charles bukowski, and john james audubon. humor serves as the lubrication for the tight squeeze into dark places. like laughing at a horror movie.
abstract figurative series 2.3
although your work has a dark edge, you've got a great sense of humor...take your painting abstract figurative series 2.3. were the mickey ears an afterthought?
those ears were already kind of in the under painting, just the remnants of the wild early brush play. after all was said and done they held out as an essential component of the composition. i actually had a hard time leaving them in because it felt a bit divisive, but it just made the piece. who knows, perhaps subconsciously when they first appeared i was thinking mickey. i don’t know. they make the piece to be more accessible, like the trojan horse to get in your dome.
key hole portrait 3.3
what influences you?
i have always, always, loved field guides and nature/biology/anatomy books of all kinds. my earliest drawings were these little made up creatures that i would draw by the dozens on those little pieces of paper that they kept behind the pews in church, i guess to quote scripture or something. my dad was a baptist minister, so we spent a lot of time in church in those early years. i spent most of that time drawing.
as far as art, i was really into comics when i was young. especially the darker ones. i was fascinated with the way these artists would create such expressive language in the anatomy and physiology of the subjects. actually, i don’t think i ever really read comics, as much as watched comics. i discovered hr giger early on and he has been a huge influence for those same reasons; conveying emotion through depictions of flesh. recently i have been very influenced by the great masters of the northern renaissance and the golden age of dutch painting, like rembrandt, van schriek, frans snyders, and hans memling. a few of my favorite contemporary artists that i find to be particularly inspiring would be gregory jacobsen, walton ford, ryan riss, robert hardgrave, matthew bone, aurel schmidt, and odd nerdrum (too many to list!).
key-hole series 3.1 detail.
the light in your work is gorgeous, can you talk a little bit about your physical process?
i have spent a lot of time visually dissecting the old masters works, particularly dutch golden age painter’s use of chiaroscuro. i guess caravaggio would have to be included in there too. i have learned some basic principles from studying these paintings such as complementary color under paintings and glazing. also, I have learned to be disciplined enough to always consider the light when moving forward with the painting. everything is affected by the light source - from start to finish the light source is what pulls form from abstraction.
what do you paint in?
usually my sweet nike running pants.
ha, very cute. do you ever work in any other medium besides oils?
no, not very often. i have painting in oils since i was 15, so about 13 years not and i feel i am still learning from this medium - it makes sense to me in this strange alchemical way. i sometimes use ink on paper in two to three day furies where i’ll produce 50 or 100 drawing/paintings. i also make masks out of cardboard and papier-mâché, but those are secret.
key hole portrait 3.2
what was your earlier work like?
my work has always focused on the expressive qualities of figure and form. my older work, however, had more narrative and was more explicit in making a statement. i was a bit more liberal with color. there was a point where i had lost connection with my palette so i cut it back to a few colors: red, black and yellow. i have slowly introduced new colors and now have a large palette again, but a better understanding of each pigment. i suppose my earlier work had its roots in surrealism and comic book elements, whereas now i don’t feel those allegiances so strong strongly.
your latest series the Key-Hole Portraits combine both the natural and preternatural, a beauty and a rawness. can you talk a little bit about this departure
i have started to be more open to mixing representational images into compositions that are also inhabited by forms derived from abstraction. it makes the believability of the latter more accessible. again, a trick, a lube, or trojan horse - like the foundational geometry of the portrait itself. i am not being didactic in painting; there is no symbolism here. there is something about looking at plants and animals in a field guide, alone on a white page, out of its element that makes them more human. this is where i am finding mystery.
the Key-Hole Portrait Series are actually multi-layered. composed of two panels, the first panel sits about two inches above the actual painting...what were your thoughts behind this group?
my work has been explicitly concept driven lately, which is kind of unusual for me as the concept is usually implicit. it all comes from this notion that we see ‘human-ness’ in things nonhuman. so when i started doing the first Abstract-Figurative Portrait Series and the ManFungus Series, i started thinking more about how the viewer attributes their own qualities of self onto the subjects within the portrait. whether that [portrait] is a rembrandt sitter or one of my pieces where there are no faces or easily recognizable human forms, but natural forms nonetheless.
in the Key-Hole portraits i am pushing that theory a bit further by taking a recognizable human portrait, such a rembrandt’s self-portrait or davinci’s ‘lady with ermine’, and translating that image into the negative space of a cut out silhouette. the front panel becomes a keyhole that one looks through to the painting on an interior panel. the insides of these portraits are compositions of flora and fauna, both natural and preternatural, in a vast and mostly empty environment. this scene is cropped by the front panel to varying degrees, depending on your visual perspective to the painting.
man fungus series 1.3
what is coming up for you in the next few months and 2009?
this month (Oct-Nov) i have some work in klaudia marr gallery’s (Santa Fe) 15th annual realism invitational and also at last rites gallery’s (NYC) 13th Hour show. i’ll be showing a couple pieces at bert green fine art (LA) in january. i am working hard towards my first two person show at roq la rue gallery (Seattle) in march of 2009 where i will be showing with the amazing painter, yoko d’holbachie. in september 2009 i will be in a two person show with another amazing painter, scott g. brooks, at last rites gallery in NYC. Oh yeah, another shameless self-promotion; metamorphosis 2 by beinart publishing will be released this december’09 and will include folks like hr giger, travis louie, lori early, ron english, and yours truly.
key hole portrait 2.3