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Ken Currie Paintings and Writings sampler

Ken Currie: Paintings and Writings provides a unique insight into the thought-world of Ken Currie’s challenging and enigmatic art. For over four decades Currie has created some of the most confrontational and intriguing paintings in the contemporary art world. Throughout this period, he has been acclaimed for the artistry of his technique and the cryptic quality of his imagery. This book explores his writings, both public and private, to open-out the discourse on his visceral creativity. For the fi rst time Currie has made available his studio journals. These intimate writings, coupled with personal letters and published statements, are juxtaposed with his esteemed artworks. The result is a fascinating dialogue that explores the motives and aspirations of his inscrutable paintings. Within the fi eld of ‘artist’s writings’ this book off ers an inspirational presentation. Compiled and edited by the art historian Tom Normand, it penetrates the creative imagination of a truly visionary artist. Fundamentally, it reveals the intense passions of a primordial human heart.

Ken Currie: Paintings and Writings provides a unique insight into the thought-world of Ken Currie’s challenging and enigmatic art. For over four decades Currie has created some of the most confrontational and intriguing paintings in the contemporary art world. Throughout this period, he has been acclaimed for the artistry of his technique and the cryptic quality of his imagery.

This book explores his writings, both public and private, to open-out the discourse on his visceral creativity. For the fi rst time Currie has made available his studio journals. These intimate writings, coupled with personal letters and published statements, are juxtaposed with his esteemed artworks. The result is a fascinating dialogue that explores the motives and aspirations of his inscrutable paintings.

Within the fi eld of ‘artist’s writings’ this book off ers an inspirational presentation. Compiled and edited by the art historian Tom Normand, it penetrates the creative imagination of a truly visionary artist.

Fundamentally, it reveals the intense passions of a primordial human heart.

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<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong> studied at the Glasgow School of Art from 1978–1983<br />

<strong>and</strong> rose to attention within a generation of painters known as the<br />

‘New Glasgow Boys’ in the 1980s. He is renowned for his unsettling<br />

portrayal of the human figure. The artist’s rich, luminous paintings<br />

depict mysterious rites, rituals, <strong>and</strong> quasi-medical practices, offering<br />

a meditation on violence in its many guises. <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong> has exhibited<br />

widely internationally, including a 2013 solo exhibition at the<br />

Scottish National Portrait Gallery which also commissioned his<br />

painting Three Oncologists. <strong>Currie</strong>’s work is held in many major<br />

public collections including Tate, London; Scottish National Gallery<br />

of Modern Art, Edinburgh; New York Public Library; Imperial War


Museum, London; Campbelltown Arts Centre, New South Wales;<br />

Yale Center for British Art, New Haven; Gulbenkian Foundation,<br />

Lisbon; <strong>and</strong> the British Council, London.<br />

dr Tom Norm<strong>and</strong> is an art historian specialising in British, <strong>and</strong><br />

especially Scottish art, photography <strong>and</strong> culture. He is the author of<br />

several books including <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>: Details of a Journey, London,<br />

2002; <strong>and</strong> Scottish Photography: a history, Edinburgh, 2007. He<br />

has also authored numerous academic articles, critical essays <strong>and</strong><br />

artist’s catalogues. Tom is an Honorary member of the Royal Scottish<br />

Academy of Art <strong>and</strong> an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of<br />

Art History, University of St Andrews.


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

<strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong><br />

Compiled <strong>and</strong> edited by<br />

TOM NORMAND


First published 2023<br />

isbn 978-1-80425-126-3 st<strong>and</strong>ard edition<br />

isbn 978-1-80425-127-0 limited edition<br />

The author’s right to be identified as author of this book<br />

under the Copyright, Designs <strong>and</strong> Patents Act 1988 has been asserted.<br />

The paper used in this book is recyclable <strong>and</strong> made from low chlorine pulps.<br />

Printed <strong>and</strong> bound by<br />

Gutenberg Press Ltd., Malta<br />

Typeset in 11 point Sabon LT Pro by<br />

Main Point Books, Edinburgh<br />

© <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong> 2023<br />

© Tom Norm<strong>and</strong> 2023


For Alex <strong>and</strong> Ina <strong>Currie</strong>


Contents<br />

Introduction by Tom Norm<strong>and</strong> 9<br />

Part 1 1980–1989 18<br />

Part 2 1990–1999 56<br />

Part 3 2000–2009 102<br />

Part 4 2010–2022 150<br />

Afterword by <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong> 227<br />

List of Artworks 230<br />

Selected Bibliography 235<br />

Note on Photography 239


Introduction<br />

You must be in the wildness of the midnight masque, in the<br />

misery of the dark street at dawn, on the moor with the<br />

w<strong>and</strong>erer or the robber…<br />

John Ruskin, Modern Painters, Appendix, vol. 2, 1846<br />

Reflecting on <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>’s writings, in association with his<br />

paintings, the place to begin is with the artist in his studio.<br />

In the case of <strong>Currie</strong> this is a large rectangular space with a high<br />

ceiling. It is part of a repurposed factory building. The walls are<br />

painted white. There is a light-source from above, but the principal<br />

lighting is from electric strip lamps. The vast bulk of the studio<br />

is set over to an area for painting <strong>and</strong> here canvases, large <strong>and</strong><br />

small, will be set with their painted surface facing the wall. On the<br />

furthest gable a single painting will st<strong>and</strong> confronting the artist.<br />

This will be his work, his challenge, for the days <strong>and</strong> weeks ahead.<br />

On the opposite gable, which contains the doorway into the studio,<br />

an attenuated space is set aside. Here his paints <strong>and</strong> brushes<br />

are assembled alongside related paraphernalia: glazes <strong>and</strong> solvents,<br />

cleaning materials, a basin, stepladders, a single chair. The space<br />

between the painting floor <strong>and</strong> this more utilitarian area is demarcated<br />

by a long metal desk. This is adjoined by a bookcase. In this<br />

area there are smaller works, sketch books, reference materials<br />

<strong>and</strong> reams of paper.<br />

This last, the writing paper, has long been at the heart of <strong>Currie</strong>’s<br />

creative practice. In the periods when he steps away from the<br />

exhausting concentration on painting, he will gather his thoughts<br />

<strong>and</strong> write. Most often he will claim that this is a simple distraction,<br />

a diversion that occurs while he ‘watches paint dry’ <strong>and</strong> prepares<br />

9


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

for the next contest with the image. But the practice of writing<br />

has been a constant in his long career as an artist. As an intimate<br />

part of his creativity, it is the necessary analogue to his vision.<br />

<strong>Currie</strong>’s writing, like his painting, is cast inside the studio space.<br />

It would not be too much of an exaggeration to recognise the studio<br />

as a kind of ‘sacred’ space. Here, the very essence of his being is<br />

allowed its fullest expression. In the first instance this is manifest as<br />

labour, a singular dedication to the work ethic, to the act of painting.<br />

This labour is certainly physical, but also emotional, psychological<br />

<strong>and</strong> intellectual. Nor are these component parts separate, for they<br />

overlap <strong>and</strong> interrelate in a dynamic synergy. The ‘work’ of painting<br />

is an engagement with the body in its capacity for visceral creative<br />

energy, but also with the mind <strong>and</strong> its need to organise, shape,<br />

control <strong>and</strong> underst<strong>and</strong>. The studio is the arena in which these<br />

forces unwind.<br />

Given the level of this commitment to studio practice it is<br />

unsurprising that few visitors are invited into this sanctum. Only<br />

when <strong>Currie</strong> is exhibiting his work in the public realm does the<br />

necessity for interviews <strong>and</strong> publicity photographs impinge upon his<br />

private space. At these points <strong>Currie</strong> will pose, as requested, <strong>and</strong> will<br />

provide copy for newspaper <strong>and</strong> journal articles. Here, he will most<br />

often speak ‘around’ the work, providing a broad context for his<br />

unsettling imagery. Faced with dem<strong>and</strong>s to ‘explain’ the paintings,<br />

he will offer parallels with the works of other artists, most of these<br />

being historical figures, <strong>and</strong> also remarks concerning the condition<br />

of the modern world. These, it might be said, are less explanations<br />

than evasions. But such statements often hint at the deeper realms<br />

of his thought-world. This subterranean territory of imagination<br />

<strong>and</strong> apparition is sometimes glimpsed in his public discourse but<br />

is more fully realised in his private writings <strong>and</strong> speculations.<br />

There is a paradox here, for it is a fundamental tenet of <strong>Currie</strong>’s<br />

commitment as an artist that the visual image has no equivalent,<br />

nor even a parallel, in language. The visual image may be seen, <strong>and</strong><br />

it may certainly be experienced, but it cannot be ‘known’. That<br />

10


introduction – tom norm<strong>and</strong><br />

is to say, it cannot be reduced into words or resolved as concept.<br />

In fact, its ‘meaning’ always remains opaque. The painted image<br />

is inviolable.<br />

Extraordinary, then, that <strong>Currie</strong> has kept a studio journal since<br />

his student days in the early 1980s.<br />

It is possible to speculate upon the motives for this discreet<br />

writing activity. In some ways it is a reaction to the frustrations <strong>and</strong><br />

irritations of social discourse. As a young man <strong>Currie</strong>’s engagement in<br />

the cultural <strong>and</strong> political world involved him in various highly public<br />

debates concerning the role <strong>and</strong> purpose of art. <strong>Currie</strong> consistently<br />

moved towards a sense of art’s social role <strong>and</strong> even its moral duty.<br />

In taking this st<strong>and</strong> he became embroiled in impassioned, <strong>and</strong><br />

often strident, discussions that were all-consuming. In some sense<br />

this compromised his creative work. The nuance of his art was<br />

impaired by the tendency to view his outlook as one-dimensional<br />

<strong>and</strong> dogmatic. In which case, the ‘retreat’ to the studio journal<br />

allowed him to circumvent the ‘noise of the world’ <strong>and</strong> so discover<br />

the fullest potential of his developing aesthetic.<br />

A further motivation, perhaps related to the above, was<br />

surely a desire to resolve, inside his head, the shifting mores of<br />

contemporary culture. In a political world that was increasingly<br />

fragmented, <strong>and</strong> in a cultural l<strong>and</strong>scape that acknowledged <strong>and</strong><br />

embraced a philosophical relativism, <strong>Currie</strong> was searching for a<br />

position that he could regard as authentic to himself as a creative<br />

artist. At some level this involved a reassertion of the eternal verities<br />

of the visual arts. This was not so much a formalism, though it<br />

contained elements of this commitment, but a notion that the<br />

visual image was, historically, ‘detached’; its power was unique<br />

<strong>and</strong> unclassifiable. In this sense at least, he became committed<br />

to the idea of the painted image as a subtle, <strong>and</strong> even terrifying,<br />

revelation. The journal became the forum for this realisation.<br />

Of course, the studio journal was merely the written testament to<br />

<strong>Currie</strong>’s developing aesthetic. It existed in congruence, perhaps just<br />

following behind, the evolution of his painting. As such, it fulfilled<br />

11


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

the function of allowing him to underst<strong>and</strong> the shifting paradigm<br />

of his own art. The arc of these complicated changes spread from<br />

an existentialist theatricality to a socialist realism, on to a quasiabstraction,<br />

<strong>and</strong> yet further to a figurative minimalism that exp<strong>and</strong>ed<br />

into a near metaphysical psychodrama of the human heart.<br />

This trajectory also helps explain a final motivation for the studio<br />

journal. It seems that <strong>Currie</strong> longs to underst<strong>and</strong>, for himself, the<br />

motivation that drives his art towards extremes. This has often been<br />

an element in the commentary on his painting; that it is ‘disturbing’,<br />

it is ‘raw’, it is simply too dark <strong>and</strong> harrowing. <strong>Currie</strong> returns to<br />

this throughout the journal citing, as exemplars <strong>and</strong> witnesses, the<br />

models of Bosch <strong>and</strong> Bruegel, David <strong>and</strong> Goya, Beckmann <strong>and</strong><br />

Dix <strong>and</strong> Francis Bacon. But, more than this, he looks inward to<br />

ask himself why this imagery haunts his imagination. Often, he<br />

will recount the perfidy of those in power, the betrayal of truly<br />

human aspirations, the ruthless exploitation of subject peoples, the<br />

myriad destructive impulses of humanity <strong>and</strong> even the self-serving<br />

opportunism of the cultural nexus. However, fundamentally, he<br />

will return to the philosophical concept of Realism. This grotesque<br />

travesty in human life is what he ‘sees’, this vision is an abiding<br />

primordial truth.<br />

***<br />

The studio journal is not the whole of <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>’s writings, nor<br />

even the largest part. These essays are accompanied by articles<br />

written for publication, interviews that are sometimes verbatim<br />

(though more often, scripted) <strong>and</strong> a singular group of letters.<br />

In explaining the inclusion of this last it is appropriate to<br />

examine the genesis of this publication.<br />

For a number of years, decades even, <strong>Currie</strong> <strong>and</strong> the editor of<br />

this book have corresponded. Firstly in the form of letters <strong>and</strong><br />

latterly through the medium of emails, these letters were most<br />

usually concerned with personal issues. However, they would often<br />

12


introduction – tom norm<strong>and</strong><br />

exp<strong>and</strong> into reflections on <strong>Currie</strong>’s art <strong>and</strong> on the art-world more<br />

generally. Sometimes they would touch upon layers of substance<br />

<strong>and</strong> meaning in <strong>Currie</strong>’s work <strong>and</strong> so functioned, like his ongoing<br />

journal, to articulate his developing thought-world.<br />

With the advent of digital technology, these written documents<br />

continued as email correspondence but remained in character as a<br />

private conversation. Indeed, though often quite formal they could<br />

on occasion lapse into a more ribald dialogue. Fundamentally,<br />

however, they were never meant for publication.<br />

Things changed in 2020. With the advent of the p<strong>and</strong>emic <strong>and</strong><br />

the related condition of ‘lockdown’ the mails became more frequent.<br />

More than this, they became more confessional <strong>and</strong> intimate. At<br />

some point they emerged as long biographical exposures <strong>and</strong><br />

disclosures, on both sides. The exchanges reflected upon personal<br />

background <strong>and</strong> growth, on childhood <strong>and</strong> adolescence, on parents<br />

<strong>and</strong> parenting, on early adult life <strong>and</strong> the uneven passages of<br />

personal progression. They were, in truth, an exploration of<br />

memory <strong>and</strong> so a mutual reconciliation with the past.<br />

From <strong>Currie</strong> these tales spoke of his links to his early life in<br />

the town of Barrhead <strong>and</strong> his long association with the city of<br />

Glasgow. He also spoke of his becoming as an artist <strong>and</strong> the fevered<br />

atmosphere of Glasgow School of Art in the 1980s. His subsequent<br />

international recognition <strong>and</strong> the journey into ‘mid-career’<br />

he explored with some irony <strong>and</strong> even disquiet. And, often, he<br />

spoke of his concerns as an artist, including his anxieties relating<br />

to his own art.<br />

At some point in these deliberations, he confessed the existence<br />

of the studio journal, in truth a series of studio journals.<br />

The prospect of these private writings was irresistible to the<br />

historian in <strong>Currie</strong>’s co-respondent, <strong>and</strong> he agreed to release them<br />

for study. The journal covered a substantial period of time <strong>and</strong><br />

reflected upon every aspect of art <strong>and</strong> culture, not to say politics<br />

<strong>and</strong> society. The entries were curiously formal, written in a careful,<br />

thoughtful manner <strong>and</strong> only occasionally revealing hostility <strong>and</strong><br />

13


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

anger. They were eminently publishable as significant examples<br />

of ‘artist’s writings’.<br />

***<br />

Of course, the journal entries require a fuller exposition <strong>and</strong> the<br />

associations to <strong>Currie</strong>’s published articles, interviews <strong>and</strong> private<br />

mails allowed for the greatest insight into his thinking as an artist.<br />

Moreover, when allied to his painting these offer some associations<br />

that throw light upon the enigma of his imagery. In fact, the arc<br />

of these writings, taken together, present a kind of monograph on<br />

the artist. This monograph is a history written from the ‘inside’.<br />

It acknowledges the assertive <strong>and</strong> driven nature of the artist as a<br />

young man: committed to a socialist art <strong>and</strong> engaged in a public<br />

discourse concerning the nature of a politicised realism. It explores<br />

the contradictions in this position, <strong>and</strong> reveals the doubt cast on a<br />

reductive realism. It examines the routes taken to refine his vision<br />

<strong>and</strong> so moving towards a more nuanced sense of a philosophical<br />

position on the nature of ‘being’. It recognises his extension of this<br />

into an uncompromising vision, at once dislocating <strong>and</strong> disquieting.<br />

In all, this is the story of a contemporary painter, simultaneously<br />

in the centre of the artworld yet still inhabiting its edges. A modern<br />

painter who eschews the fashionable <strong>and</strong> embraces the wildness<br />

of a terrifying reality.<br />

14


introduction – tom norm<strong>and</strong><br />

The astonishing thing, here, is <strong>Currie</strong>’s decision to st<strong>and</strong> naked<br />

in front of his audience. As an artist he has consistently offered<br />

up challenging works <strong>and</strong> dem<strong>and</strong>ed that the audience interpret<br />

them as they will. He has often remarked that he, himself, has no<br />

idea what motivates his painting nor what determines his imagery.<br />

The revelation of this content, within his writings, will, at least<br />

partially, offer some resolution to the enigma of his work.<br />

Unfamiliar Reflection, 2006<br />

15


Part 1<br />

<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>, <strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 1980–1989


Life of the Organism, 1980<br />

As a student in the painting department of Glasgow School of<br />

Art in the late 1970s <strong>and</strong> early ’80s I was, like everyone else,<br />

deeply affected by the atmosphere that hung over the painting<br />

studios. At this time, this atmosphere was steeped in what seemed<br />

like the monolithic precepts of 20th century Scottish painting:<br />

the centrality of the Royal Scottish Academy with its moribund<br />

traditions; the east coast, west coast schism which spawned a<br />

stifling provincialism; <strong>and</strong> the general myopia of ambition<br />

among the students. In 1980 I found myself wrapped up in these<br />

18


<strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 1980–1989<br />

concerns <strong>and</strong> intent on producing traditional Glasgow School of<br />

Art painting. Yet outwith the hours of the School I maintained<br />

an interest in figuration that was not satisfied by the course<br />

structure of the time. In pursuing this interest I photographed<br />

friends modelling in a variety of poses, usually semi-naked <strong>and</strong><br />

lit with a single source of artificial light. This provided valuable<br />

material for figure compositions that could not be supplied by the<br />

painting school. It was here that I gained an extremely basic but<br />

functioning working knowledge of the human figure composition<br />

without having to worry about the life-class, as it was here that<br />

the peculiarly stifling atmosphere of the painting school seemed to<br />

weigh most heavily. I had been looking at Francis Bacon’s work<br />

<strong>and</strong> through him Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of ‘The<br />

Human Figure in Motion’.<br />

Through Muybridge I developed an interest not only in human<br />

figures but also animals in motion <strong>and</strong> found accompanying source<br />

material in nature photography, particularly scenes of predation.<br />

My concern then was physicality, muscle, motion <strong>and</strong> a sense<br />

of violence. Clearly I was fumbling for a theme, but feelings of<br />

brutality <strong>and</strong> oppression were what I wanted to express through<br />

the images, <strong>and</strong> what was important then was the fact that I<br />

couldn’t do this by purely abstract means.<br />

In the summer recess of 1980, it was my intention to explore<br />

some of the themes that I had encountered in the novels of Kafka,<br />

Beckett <strong>and</strong> Sartre in a series of big charcoal drawings of figures<br />

in a variety of urban <strong>and</strong> industrial interiors. These drawings<br />

formed the basis of my third-year work. The final piece was called<br />

Life of the Organism, a title shamelessly plagiarised from Dušan<br />

Makevejev’s WR Mysteries of the Organism.<br />

Mortality, physical extremes <strong>and</strong> isolation were the themes that<br />

interested me then although, in retrospect, they were clearly part of<br />

a process of growing self-awareness rather than coherent statements.<br />

‘Statement on the Development of my Work 1980–1988’, <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow<br />

<strong>and</strong> Raab Gallery, Berlin, 1988.<br />

19


Part 2<br />

<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>, <strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 1990–1999


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

Wailing Women, 1990<br />

It has been my experience, so far, that the notion of artists delving<br />

into the darker areas of human life is often met with disapproval<br />

in our present-day culture of contentment. Artists who explore the<br />

darker, more troubling aspects of the human situation, particularly<br />

painters, are said to produce work which is ‘depressing’ or ‘difficult<br />

to live with’. One can only assume that people who find this kind of<br />

work difficult or depressing must approach it wrapped in a feeling<br />

of personal contentment <strong>and</strong> self-satisfaction. Given that we should<br />

all be conscientiously concerned with the state of the world, <strong>and</strong> that<br />

this concern should pervade our every thought, word <strong>and</strong> deed, I can<br />

only assume that people such as this are either deluding themselves<br />

or seeking a kind of art that mirrors their own complacency.<br />

Goya is, therefore, of vital importance as an example of an artist<br />

who declared war on complacency <strong>and</strong> self-delusion, <strong>and</strong> whose<br />

work is a monumental argument for the notion of an art that is not<br />

afraid to probe <strong>and</strong> confront the darker forces at work in the world.<br />

Above all, he was a moral artist dedicated to Truth <strong>and</strong> Reason.<br />

His exposure of humankind’s self-destructive follies was not born<br />

out of misanthropy or irrational despair but of the need to wake<br />

people out of their contented sleep. His work is imbued with a<br />

fierce rational pessimism <strong>and</strong> condemnation of man’s folly… the<br />

main driving force behind his work, therefore, is rage <strong>and</strong> despair.<br />

At the moment I feel it is impossible to look at this series (‘The<br />

Disasters of War’) without immediately thinking of the civil war<br />

in Bosnia. In fact, ‘The Disasters of War’ could easily be about<br />

that conflict – the betrayal of truth <strong>and</strong> reason, the triumph of<br />

barbarism <strong>and</strong> intolerance, the unleashing of atavistic forces intent<br />

on revenge, reprisal, endless killing. The terrible lust with which<br />

this killing is carried out, revealing not only the urge to wantonly<br />

murder but to mutilate <strong>and</strong> disfigure, even the dead.<br />

‘Uncivil Wars: <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong> applauds Goya’s courageous images of human depravity’, Art Review,<br />

March 1994.<br />

56


<strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 1990–1999<br />

57


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

58


<strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 1990–1999<br />

59


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

The Fourth Triptych: Enemy of the People, The Sceptics,<br />

Anatomy Lesson, The Idealist, 1989–90<br />

(pages 58–59)<br />

Recent events in Eastern Europe, <strong>and</strong> elsewhere, have undoubtedly<br />

influenced the direction of the new work. In fact, the period of the<br />

1989 ‘revolutions’, the ‘End of History’, the ‘Death of Communism’<br />

<strong>and</strong> the ‘Triumph of Capitalism’, provoked a kind of philosophical<br />

crisis which I’m sure I shared with many other people. A feeling that<br />

the whole basis of one’s belief lay in ruins, politically discredited<br />

<strong>and</strong> morally indefensible.<br />

At the beginning of 1990 in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin I stood<br />

in front of Bruegel’s Netherl<strong>and</strong>ish Proverbs of 1559, with the<br />

sound of the Mauerspechte, or ‘wall-peckers’ chipping away at the<br />

wall, still ringing in my ears. Here, Bruegel had depicted the world<br />

as a kind of theatre where human beings pursued the gr<strong>and</strong> follies<br />

of their existence. The proverbs depicted seemed to have a curious<br />

timelessness <strong>and</strong> their observations as relevant now as they were then.<br />

In other words, Bruegel seemed to be presenting an almost absurdly<br />

pessimistic view of the human situation – that human beings are<br />

enslaved by their nature, incapable of acting out of anything other<br />

than self-interest. That human beings are fundamentally incapable<br />

of realising their collective ideals. At an earlier moment I would have<br />

dismissed this thinking as reactionary <strong>and</strong> politically naïve. However<br />

at that moment, in Berlin… Breugel’s vision had a kind of resonance<br />

as a counter-attack on the fatuous optimism <strong>and</strong> bl<strong>and</strong> historical<br />

certainty that had been one of Eastern Europe’s most irritating flaws.<br />

I raise these points in order to illustrate the kind of political<br />

anxieties, questions <strong>and</strong> contradictions against which my new<br />

work has developed, <strong>and</strong> which have a direct bearing on the kind<br />

of imagery I’ve chosen to present, even right down to the way in<br />

which I apply the paint.<br />

‘A discussion between <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong> <strong>and</strong> John Griffiths’, catalogue, Riverside Studios exhibition,<br />

London, 1991.<br />

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Part 3<br />

<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>, <strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 2000–2009


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

Details of a Journey II, 2000<br />

I’m very often reminded of the last words in the last book of<br />

Samuel Beckett’s great ‘Trilogy’ – ‘I can’t go on. I’ll go on.’<br />

‘Interview with the Artist’, Susannah Thompson, <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>: Recent Work, exhibition catalogue,<br />

Glasgow School of Art, 2002.<br />

102


Safe H<strong>and</strong>s, 2000<br />

Physical <strong>and</strong> mental energy – the process of painting often places<br />

a great strain on your reserves, your stamina. Painting is mostly<br />

a physical battle with the work in front of you. You realise your<br />

‘vision’, if you like, through a psycho-physiological process, in<br />

a state of perpetual possibility, infinite malleability. And I’m<br />

not talking about huge canvases here, really small paintings can<br />

have beads of sweat breaking out as you try to make this little<br />

thing work. It’s hard work. You have to concentrate <strong>and</strong> at the<br />

same time lose yourself to possibility. You’re trying to create this<br />

heightened, unfolding moment of pure creativity where you are<br />

in total control but not really conscious of what you are doing.<br />

‘Interview with the Artist’, Susannah Thompson, <strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>: Recent Work, exhibition catalogue,<br />

Glasgow School of Art, 2002.<br />

103


Part 4<br />

<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong>, <strong>Paintings</strong> <strong>and</strong> <strong>Writings</strong> 2010–2022


<strong>Ken</strong> <strong>Currie</strong><br />

Heavily Symbolic Still Life, 2009<br />

The human figure, heads, sometimes animals, have always been<br />

central concerns of my work. Looking back over the years there<br />

are certain works where there is an absence of the figure; shrouds,<br />

monuments, architectural spaces, <strong>and</strong> ordinary objects. But I have<br />

never consciously explored the idea of the still life painting.<br />

On regular visits to the Burrell Collection in Glasgow I was<br />

always drawn to a very small, very modest, very quiet painting by<br />

the 18th century French master Jean Siméon Chardin. It depicts an<br />

arrangement of rather humble everyday objects on a dusty shelf.<br />

Painted exquisitely, the simple objects are charged with mystery<br />

<strong>and</strong> an almost spiritual intensity. It struck me that still life painting<br />

is capable of conveying a weight of subtle meanings <strong>and</strong> allusions.<br />

Towards the end of 2008 I suddenly began a still life series. I<br />

think I was sick of reading the newspapers. Page after page about<br />

greed <strong>and</strong> stupidity on a colossal scale. I had to disengage, retreat.<br />

Once I started all sorts of possibilities emerged.<br />

These paintings are objects mostly found around my studio <strong>and</strong><br />

in my home. They have a certain significance for me.<br />

I set up some of these objects in a still life context, on a table<br />

<strong>and</strong> side-lit against a dark background.<br />

Some of the objects refer to memory. Also, the idea of frugality,<br />

of economy, of a stripping away to basics. Certain memories of<br />

childhood.<br />

Interesting how certain objects, when brought together, can<br />

have such heavy symbolism – like skulls <strong>and</strong> c<strong>and</strong>les. Certain<br />

objects seem to have an innately ominous quality.<br />

Towards the end of the series it occurred to me that I wasn’t<br />

making ‘proper’ still life paintings, like Chardin, as the paintings<br />

were mostly of single objects, sometimes two objects. So, I set up<br />

a large still life, taking all the objects I had looked at previously<br />

<strong>and</strong> brought them together. It was as if they were having a meeting,<br />

or a conversation with each other. In this large painting I became<br />

150


interested in the range of possible meanings in the objects but<br />

recognised that these meanings would be wholly allusive. In so<br />

doing I hoped I just might slightly brush the coat-tails of Chardin.<br />

‘Draft notes on New <strong>Paintings</strong>’, Email to TN, 24 January 2010.<br />

151


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