Erin Currier travels the world getting to know indigenous people, participating in their causes and collecting the cast off ephemera of their lives. Their personal and sociopolitical lives appear in her paintings along with collages assembled from their detritus.
Her latest work will be shown in the exhibition Las Meninas at Blue Rain Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico, September 14 through 29.
The paintings in this exhibition refer to art historical precedents. She appropriates the composition and color palette of the originals and often “subverts” their messages—replacing demure Polynesian women in a Gauguin painting with Peruvian women holding a protest sign stating, “We’re indigenous. We’re not Savages.” The sign refers to the Peruvian government having called its indigenous people “savages.” Currier participated in protests on a recent visit to the Amazon jungle in Peru. Whereas the women in Gauguin’s painting look away from the viewer, Currier’s subjects gaze straight out.
Her references to classic paintings, such as Las Meninas by Velázquez and works by others from Picasso to Van Gogh, embody the Japanese concept of honkadori, “an allusion within a poem to an older poem which would be generally recognized by its readers,” she explains. “Although sometimes copied word for word, honkadori goes beyond a mere reference to another poem by seeking to affect the reader in the same way as the original poem but with difference in meaning and atmosphere.
“For me, as an artist,” she continues, “the moment is now to recognize and pay my respect to those who came before me through honkadori—by approaching significant works with the same courage with which they were originally rendered, but within a wholly new and radical context relevant to the 21st century.”
One painting, Dolores Huerta (after Van Gogh’s Il Giardiniere), embodies the learning experience and the artist’s passion for her subjects. Huerta is one of her heroes—the cofounder (with César Chávez) of the National Farmworkers Association, which
later became the United Farm Workers. Huerta, now 88, has visited Currier in her Santa Fe studio.
Van Gogh’s painting is symmetrical, the figure is centered and the hands are not shown—compositional aspects that are counterintuitive to the artist. She emulates Van Gogh’s distinctive brushstrokes in the background with collaged elements from her collection of cast off paper. She admires Van Gogh’s portraits of common working people, and she chose it as a fitting context for her portrait of Huerta.
“The paintings connect with art history,” she says, “and they’re a cross-cultural reference of strong, fierce and fearless women.”
1UFC Fighter Rose Namajunas as the Not-So-Repentant-Magdalena (after Fetti), acrylic and mixed media on panel, 36 x 24" 2Dolores Huerta (after Vincent Van Gogh’s Il Giardiniere), acrylic and mixed media on panel, 24 x 18" 3Study for Santa Rosa de Lima (after Tiepolo), mixed media collage and pen and china marker paper, 15 x 11"4Denisa (after Manet), mixed media collage and pen and china marker paper, 7½ x 11"