FEATURE KEN CURRIE
Memory ol Conﬂict, Aquatlnt, 1991
‘I wanted my
figures to be people
who were sceptical,
tull oi contradictions and worries, people
who were very vulnerable.’
KEN CURRIE’s work has always shown an unﬂinching approach to reality. But over the past three years there has been a profound change of emphasis, as he explains to Miranda France.
hree times in the last few months. burglars have broken into Ken Currie‘s studio in the East End of Glasgow. strolled past thousands of pounds‘ worth of charcoal and ink preliminaries. triptychs and head studies, and made off with his radio. Currie is relieved, but not surprised at the oversight. ‘They probably think it‘s rubbish,‘ he says. ‘the work of a mad guy.‘ It‘s a joke, but there’s a kernel of truth in it: Currie‘s work has always been born ofa
kind of despair — he calls it a ‘rational despair‘ — an anger at the state of the world which literally obsesses him and fuels his
imagination. His new collection — which will get its only Scottish airing at the Talbot Rice Gallery — has been three years in the making and is markedly different from the brooding, robust images Currie left us with at the Third Eye Centre show in 1988. In the new works. crowds of ghoulish figures with vivid black holes for eyes and white, wounded ﬂesh jostle blindly in streets. They are the victims and perpetrators of pain — relics of the Holocaust, ofthe Gulf War, ofa nameless authoritarian regime; in one image, women clutch pictures oftheir lost menfolk to their chests against a backdrop of burning buildings. The stuff of nightmares, these are
a The List 22 November— 5 December 1991
creatures which demand attention. There is. certainly, a kind of lunacy about them.
Currie‘s last exhibition came at a time when he was enjoying considerable acclaim for works which were often openy critical of Glasgow — industrially bleak and peopled with brash. macho characters whose depressed environs and circumstances gave them nothing in which to invest their energies. other than small-minded thuggery and self-abuse. Above all. he was known for the eight-part mural, commissioned by the People‘s Palace. which gave a potted history of Scotland‘s working-class struggle, drawing on the colourful. galvanizing technique of 19305 Soviet and Mexican muralists. People were seen as symbols of a force for change, banners unfurled across the canvas with proclamations of universal rights. Then, in 1988, Currie experienced a ‘painful, philosophical crisis‘. partly the result of a tour of Eastern Europe which left him finally disillusioned with Soviet communism.
‘The Eastern Europe thing signified an end,‘ says Currie now. ‘l‘d known that it was bad, but the amount ofself-delusion that goes on, particularly with communism is remarkable — you want to believe that it‘s good, even though you know at the back of
your mind that it‘s not quite right. So. the crisis was, how to mantain a radical opposition to capitalism? There‘s still a lot of room for that critique of society.‘
First he abandoned the near-propagandist, ‘confident worker‘ motifofearlier works. ‘I had to get rid of it. It had overtones ofa kind ofcertainty which can be dangerous. I wanted my figures to be people who were sceptical, full of contradictions and worries. people who were very vulnerable. Now. there‘s more of a sense of people being wounded. physically damaged by the conditions in which they‘re living. I‘ve also tried to create a convincing human presence in the work as well; before the figures in my work were much more idealistic. like stereotypes. almost. whereas in the new work I try to create individual characters in the way that a novel might. I‘m trying to build up a character and make it convincing.‘
'Three years. he says. has been a good length
of time for him to achieve that kind ofdepth of approach. Where he would once have spent a month on a painting. he now spends four.
In fact the works are evocative of 19th century Russian and French epic novels. and. Currie admits that he has been particularly inﬂuenced by Emile Zola. ‘l‘ve read almostj