If you’ve seen the 1987 horror movie Hellraiser, you probably remember the Butterball Cenobite: one of the minor demon characters charged with dragging people to Hell. If you can’t conjure an image of his likeness from memory, he looked like this: Please Click Me. To me, the wildly surreal portraits comprising Christian Rex Van Minnen’s recent exhibit, Coniuncto look like they could be Butterball’s contemporary relatives, albeit with tattoos and jewel-toned gummy candies hovering over their mutant visages. At the very least, this series of paintings encourages wildly imaginative extrapolation, and that’s what good art is all about!
You can thank me now for not making the decidedly butterball-esque image above the lead photo in this article (you’re welcome). When I randomly stumbled into Coniunto (Ross + Kramer Gallery) in early June, I had no context for what I was looking at, and was sure I’d never see art by Van Minnen before — because who could forget it?
After a little digging, however, it turned out I had seen his work in a group show at Jonathan LeVine Gallery back in 2015, and it looked strikingly similar to these pieces, so I think it can be said that Van Minnen has a recognizable style. How he sleeps at night is another question entirely.
So, what the heck is the story behind this beautifully repulsive body of work? Here’s what the artist has to say:
“Coniunctio, literally ‘conjunction,’ was [a term] used by ancient alchemists to describe chemical unions. Carl Jung adapted this term to describe the psychological union of the opposites, and the birth of new possibilities. In this body of work, oil painting, monotype, and digital, I have created portraits that are the conjunction of identities, and layers of self. As our consciousness expands further into the digital realm, so do new layers of identity. The interplay of these identities in one’s self is what interests me.”
Well said, thank you.
Van Minnen, who is a self-taught painter, studied the methods of both Italian and Northern European Renaissance painters. Whereas the former used a white underpainting resulting in luminous works, the latter used a mid-toned underpainting that allowed for a greater sense of depth. Van Minnen combines these two methods in his paintings: the Italian style for the “gummy” elements that seem to float on the surfaces of his paintings, hovering over his invented subjects; and the Northern European style for the backgrounds and figures themselves.
I am trying to imagine what it would be like to have one of these very large-scale oil paintings hanging in my home. What do you think? If they intrigue you, there’s still time to see these works in person, as the show is up for two more weeks.
Coniunctio will be on exhibit through July 22nd, 2022 at Ross + Kramer Gallery, Located at 515 West 27th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues in the Chelsea Gallery District.