In his new solo exhibition at Richard Heller Gallery, Mourning Wood in Liminal Dawn, Christian Rex Van Minnen shows a body of work that attempts to break into liminal space and explore, in his words the “labyrinth of self-deceit, grief, hope and excitement” that is “heterosexual male identity”.
Your work, to me, sits on a line between humour and horror, especially the googly eyes embedded into swollen faces really make me laugh. Is a kind of comedy something you want to address in your work?
Ha, that’s good to hear. Yes, humour is very important to me. I’m a big fan of stand up comedy and comedy that leans into the absurd. I value the discomfort and destabilization that genre offers. In terms of visual art, I’m interested in art that describes emotions that are difficult to define, that space between beauty and horror, or humour and terror. They are dynamic gateways to self-knowledge.
“I really love seeing what oil paint as a material can do, just as long as it is in service of something other than itself.”
The technical skill in your work is incredible. Your paintings seem to glow with an inner light. How do you achieve this effect?
I use an indirect painting approach, utilizing a division of labour, many layers and glazes. I really love seeing what oil paint as a material can do, just as long as it is in service of something other than itself. I am drawn to the older, traditional ways of working with oil paint. It’s from the methods and materials of the great schools and masters where I continue to learn how to think about paint, about luminosity, mixing colour with light, creating that strange atmosphere.
In this new body of work, you show paintings where skin has been tattooed with Livestream comments. Do you see your work as saying something about the ways we operate on social media?
With my phone in one hand and brushes in the other I go “live” on Instagram and begin “tattooing” the live feed comments into an oil-wet flesh glaze as quickly as I can. I tattoo the comments as they come in, it’s indiscriminate and creates a very permanent registration of things that are most ephemeral, these comments that otherwise have no permanent archive. That is interesting to me. The dissonance of it is interesting. I experience that in my life, like many of us do. There’s this strange feeling of life being layered; there’s a private life where I have a deeper sense of meaning, a spiritual practice, and then this constant, addictive, dopamine drip of social media layered on top, and often the two bleed together. There is an interesting liminal space between the two.
“The paintings are highly rendered, tight, clean and illusionistic depictions of ideas, thoughts and feelings that are very much the opposite; ethereal, ambiguous, organic and dynamically confused.”
Your work draws a huge amount of inspiration from classical Dutch painting and chiaroscuro. What particular influences have effected your work?
Yes, it is where I find oil paint as material reached its zenith. All of my teachers are there, and Rembrandt, in particular, has taught me most. I look to him to learn how to create the effect of environmental light; not just figure and ground, but the ether binding them.
You write that the paintings in this show are “symbolic of liminality itself”. What is this liminal space as you see it? Is this what your dreams look like?
I wouldn’t say that there’s much of a connection to my dreams. The paintings are highly rendered, tight, clean and illusionistic depictions of ideas, thoughts and feelings that are very much the opposite; ethereal, ambiguous, organic and dynamically confused. Jung gives language to this experience in his description of the process of individuation. I find myself in the dark, confusing liminal space of that process and I’m describing it in my own way.