Christian Rex van Minnen makes art that exists in a borderland between real and surreal, figurative and vaguely abstracted. His paintings tell their story by what is absent, not just what is physically there. It is in the volatility of opposition that his works aim to explore the depths of each theme.
Truth or illusion? Beauty or horror? Natural or otherwise? Van Minnen seems fascinated by creating that illusory and contradictory state within his audience, comparible to the morbid curiosity that manifests after accidents or tragic incidents. However bad we think it might be, we just can’t help but look.
At the very least, even if we show restrait from looking, there’s an inevitable sense of curiosity provoked by such occurrences. Van Minnen draws on this attraction to typically and outwardly ugly characteristics, adding both poignant and humorous insights to each. In his sinewy portraits of largely faceless characters, heads are replaced by bulbous sores or organic tumour-like mounds of flesh. What semblance of faces are present are little more than scarred vestiges of recognisable facial topography.
Accentuated features make hairstyles seem like wigs made for drag queens or bodied musculature look like a misproportioned anatomical drawing with aged flesh hastily and tightly pulled over it, as if whatever is underneath is embarrassed and had to grab the nearest thing to retain any morsel of dignity.
Many of the figures, whilst begging one hundred questions themselves, are covered in bluing tattoo ink, that of a faded story scrawled on skin. Each of them seem to have deep symbolic significance, imbued with meaning in the same way as we associate those tattoos found in Russian prisons used to denote the rank and biography of the vory v zakone. Yet, that may be true of the figures, but not the text. The artist often engages in Instagram live conversations and writes user-generated comments on the bodies.
Perhaps one of the most disturbing elements of his visual language is the infusion of childlike elements. There’s gummy bears and references to children’s entertainment figures and characters. This fraught relationship between elements in the paintings is a large part of the artist’s modus operandi. He’s a master of tension, making his audience question whether they should be looking intently or looking away in disgust.
When you’ve found a moment to catch your breath as you lock eyes with a seemingly innocuous painting, you’ve probably been fooled. Rest assured, amongst the recognisable will be something entirely out of place, flowers shaped like pulled teeth or arrangements that resemble something sinister - or at least unexpected - upon closer inspection.
The beauty lies therefore in the atmosphere of each piece. Inherently uneasy, it’s the space of challenged expectations and questions aimed towards our own thoughts that make for experiential viewing. Van Minnen will never do what is expected and his unpredictability should be relished.
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