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Exclusive Interview: Christian Rex van Minnen Discusses Upcoming Solo Show, “Golden Memes”

Christian Rex van Minnen's oil paintings have been known to go viral among art lovers. His work (featured in HF Vol. 25) mixes hyperrealist details and surreal elements, evoking the Dutch masters with his use of traditional painting techniques. In each piece, the unsettling overall image often blends the beautiful with the grotesque and has a humorous yet nightmarish quality.

Christian Rex van Minnen’s oil paintings have been known to go viral among art lovers. His work (featured in HF Vol. 25) mixes hyperrealist details and surreal elements, evoking the Dutch masters with his use of traditional painting techniques. In each piece, the unsettling overall image often blends the beautiful with the grotesque and has a humorous yet nightmarish quality.

On January 15, Robischon Gallery in Denver, Colorado, will open “Golden Memes,” a solo show by this New York-based artist. The exhibition will feature mostly large-scale oils, including Thunder, Perfect Mind, the piece that triggered lots of controversy when it was displayed in the form of a large billboard on the streets of New York back in November (see our coverage here). We recently got a sneak peek of the works van Minnen created for this exhibition and spoke with him about his new paintings and ideas.

What is the theme of the show?
It’s a new show of mostly large scale works. Thematically, there’s a lot of golden means, memes, pronk, plum skinned people, jellyfish, pig tattoos/tattooed pigs, coals, eyeshadow, Nyquil, marble and snakes. “Golden Memes” is an exploration of memes that circulated in Dutch Golden Age painting and other European Old Master paintings. These memes get awkward and messy and sometimes revealing when taken out of context. That’s always fruitful.

How many works did you prepare for this show?
There’ll be about 10 paintings all together for this show, many of them large-scale.

Is there any significance behind the lava-like creatures in Ebola Trip and Eva Prima Pandora?
Yes, but I’m not sure myself what it is yet. The painters of the Dutch Golden Age seemed to be obsessed with painting epicuticular wax. Must have been some inside meme-like joke or a test of one’s painterly meddle. It’s usually very reserved and jewel-like and I thought it’d be interesting to focus just on that. It cheapens it, kind of makes it gross and new.

What is the story and the meaning of the Eva Prima Pandora piece? Why the skyline of Manhattan and the Arabic banner in rainbow colors?
It’s a version of Jean Cousin’s Eva Prima Pandora, 1550. Except my Eve/Pandora is in a grotto in Hoboken and is pregnant like a hot water balloon on the rocks.

Is there a message on that banner above the image?
The lettering is an inaccurate Google translation of “EVA PRIMA PANDORA.” I think it’s probably something else in Arabic but that’s not terribly important.

Speaking of Google, one of the artworks is your take on their logo. How did that one come about?
The Google logo is brilliant in it’s color scheme; blue, red, yellow, blue, green, red. Those were the basic parameters. The slab is a solid meme that still carries a lot of weight for the viewer.

Where do you get the inspiration for your work, your compositions, your creatures?
I am inspired by the history of painting and the special effect that can be achieved with oil paint and light. Compositions are built on the long history of aesthetic geometry, golden means, and other stylistic conventions and memes developed over time.

Do your works have elaborate stories behind them, or are they just combinations of different visual elements that you compose together?
Sometimes they do but it wouldn’t necessarily do you any good to hear them. They’re not coherent in anyway and I’m not much of a riddler. You should be able to ‘get it’ from a relatively uninformed perspective, Western biases aside.

How did you come up with the idea to incorporate tattoos in your work, and in such an excessive way?
I love the interference layer it creates on the object, in that it creates three potential ways to read the illusion; as the tattoo itself, the object itself, and the relationship between the two. There’s a lot of potential for both harmony and dissonance there.

What are your biggest influences?
I am fascinated with art and popular culture that embraces the absurd and grotesque.

Are there any artists or movements you are interested in particular?
I am particularly interested in a group from the 17th century called the Schildersbent or Bentvueghels — a group of mostly Dutch painters who pilgrimaged to Rome to paint and engage in bacchanal rituals. They were considered lowbrow and included Otto Marseus van Schrieck and Matthias Withoos. Very interesting history.

Christian Rex van Minnen’s “Golden Memes” opens at Robischon Gallery on January 15.

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