Christian Rex van Minnen Gets Under Your Skin @ Robischon Gallery
We're still trying to catch up with all the great post-summer shows open all over the globe, but we are particularly primed for the upcoming solo exhibition by Juxtapoz favorite Christian Rex van Minnen, who also happens to be a prince of a guy. Back home in Denver, van Minnen reveals his newest solo at Robischon Gallery, presenting simultaneously with Kiki Smith and Fred Stonehouse alongside a two-person exhibition by Terry Maker and Walter Robinson.
After focusing on works on paper at Galerie Julien Cadet in Paris back in May, van Minnen is ready to brandish his ideas and brush handling skills with a show that features a selection of new canvases and object paintings. Temporarily stepping away from his iconic, mind-melting portraits, van Minnen focuses on creating a coherent body of work revolving around a real classic– the flower vase. Instead of earning easy style points with a depiction of gorgeous naturalistic creations, he blows minds with borderline surreal, psychotic assemblages, elegantly arranged on a marble surface. Using the traditional format merely as a template, he packs these visual challenges with everything from a sausage dream catcher, to gummy candy knife, Ice Cube to snow globes, not to mention hermetical fetuses. All new sculptural pieces of bruised flesh morsels covered with baffling tattoo scribbles elevate his work to a whole new dimension of spatial presence.
So, of course, we reached out to van Minnen in hopes of learning a bit more about this new body of work before it's officially revealed to the public on September 19th.
Sasha Bogojev: How was working on a show in your hometown after such a long time? Did you feel pressured to show the progression of your practice and career?
Christian Rex van Minnen: I always feel pressure to show improvement, but I think that’s more internal than anything else. Maybe the unusual thing about showing in Denver is that people have known me for a lot longer, so there’s this reconciliation between ‘Oh hey it’s Chris from 7-11 parking lot’ and all this art world stuff. There’s some relief in that. There’s something about the midwest that is humbling, no one is really willing to suffer any kind of pretentiousness.
The body of work looks balanced, with still lifes and semi-sculptural work. Any particular reason for not including portraits?
After that giant portrait in Brussels, I felt like returning to something more colorful and compositionally decentralized. I just wanted to start a series where the basic structure is consistent, then see where it takes me. There’s an interesting connection between aberrant flowers and tattoos, something around ‘blooming’. I think I want to do a bunch more of these vase-still life combos, it’s pretty potent and I’m having fun.
Yes, the still lifes have a coherent composition. Are they arranged as pre-built settings that fit different narratives? Which ones did you tackle this time?
Yeah exactly, it's basically a simple geometric arrangement to play with, and I'm interested to see, given those compositional constraints, how far I can push it. The first three were very straight forward and mimetic mutanoid of the old style, then things started veering off. I'm already looking to keep that trajectory going until it’s untenable.
What's the idea behind the main image seemingly crammed inside the vase?
To me, it looks like an image of parallax, basically an ‘x’ shape of one universe meeting another at a singularity point. I like how the two worlds communicate. It’s something like, ‘SOMETHING ... BLOOMS, or BLOOMS OF SOMETHING’, as a basic conceptual guide.
It sure looks like you’re having a great time composing and painting these works. Does that joy extend to picking the titles of your work as well? It sure comes across that way.
Of course! They are fun all the way through! I’m having a great time. I like for titles to come quickly and without too much thought.
And what does Glenn Danzig have to do with the American dream?
(Laughs) I don't see that little guy as Danzig, but that’s totally cool with me. He’s just a garden variety zombie experiencing some serious weltschmerz.
So, I wasn't far off! There is a flag, which is a second or third iteration of that concept if I'm correct. What draws you back towards it?
Yeah, it’s the second one of that series. I’m primarily concerned with the challenge of the composition it provides. But inevitably, it’s going to be connected to that symbol and everything that comes along with it.
That piece has a lot of tattooed flesh, which leads to the newest body of work. What's the story behind these semi-sculptural pieces?
I'm interested in how tattoos look on the skin when new and old, and how that tells a story– but in a collapsed, non-linear way. Like if you were to do a long time-lapse exposure on a rose bush, it would look like some kind of heaving explosion.
What's the idea behind layering different tattoos and scars on top of each other, in a way that is rarely, if ever, seen on a person?
I mean it kind of is. Not layered exactly, but you can tell the difference between a tattoo someone got many years ago and a newer, fresher one. I just wanted to see how they look right on top of one another, basically telling the same story but in a collapsed, unified way.
They feel like the simplified, flat sculptures you were making with Aaron Johnson or, perhaps, more elaborate takes on Bram Bogart’s work.
One hundred percent. Bram Bogart is the inspiration, for sure. I was introduced to his work a few years ago, and something about the mass of those things has stayed with me. What would those look like if they weren’t so committed to the realm of abstraction? Mine are basically just big, round, cartoon toast looking, flesh globs, as a starting point.
From a technical standpoint, how are they composed, and are they your invention?
It’s a technique I used for mask making years back, and those masks are still hard as a rock. It’s basically high-density foam, PVA, paper pulp, gesso and oil paint with a wax finish. I love it.
They look absolutely insane, like a movie prop! The tattoos, along with their base of fleshy surface, have developed into a preferred vehicle. Was this something you were hoping to achieve?
A while back, I did a couple of paintings that were just a closeup of flesh. Maybe some illusionistic appearance of contours, but no negative space. I've held onto that feeling until now, when I have a medium to explore it in 3D. They lead me in a direction characterized by more forethought, planning, and narrative, which is kind of new.
Do you have further plans for this concept, or better yet, how would you like to develop this idea even further?
Oh yeah. I’d like to do more, maybe large or composite pieces like that. Frankenstein’s monster?
Christian Rex van Minnen's latest exhibition comes to Denver's Robischon Gallery on September 19th and is on view through November 9, 2019.