“(This show) is definitely a full documentation of my covid time.” We’ve heard a similar statement over and over again in the past months and have seen so many artists tackling our shared experiences and emotions in a variety of ways. But we can’t think of anyone else that grabbed this tragic opportunity with as much dedication and vigor as Christian Rex van Minnen. His first solo exhibition in Spain, Skin Bone Quinacridone Adrenochrome, which opens May 12th at Galería Javier López & Fer Francés in Madrid, brings together a wide selection of recent works, some fifteen oil paintings, and nine monotypes, working around the schizophrenic atmosphere of our present-day reality.

During a phone conversation we’ve had about this show and life in general, Van Minnen mentioned a sense of urgency creeping up among the members of our age group. I might be wrong, but it feels as he managed to channel that pressure into an exceptionally productive work ethic and routine. Hunkered down in Santa Cruz, spending days exploring nature with his family or cycling the neighboring hills, Rode Island-born distilled his focus and produced his arguably most impressive body of work to date. “The forest really became our sanctuary those first months, and then they fucking burned and we had to flee,” he mentioned capturing in one sentence the sheer extremes that permeate our lives having the potential to drive us insane. But instead, Van Minnen seized that “overabundance of contrasts” and attributed them with recognizable, tangible, vibrant features in his work. This is how the succulent, yet decaying and gnarling still lifes by Luis Egidio Meléndez ended up with prison tattoos of The Clothed Maja by Francisco Goya or Édouard Manet’s Olympia (La Maja y Melendez, Manet y Melendez, both 2021). Sprinkled with a generous load of Kryptonite-like gummy beans, which were originally conceived in an effort to create “the opposite of opaque,” these monumental images represent the storm of contradictions raging within and around us. “All of California was on fire, the whole world was on fire, people’s minds and hearts and souls were on fire,” he continued, almost literally describing images that provided him an anchor for positioning in the surrounding uncertainty. Going in hand with the idea of the plurality of truth, the theory suggesting that “ethical propositions might be true by more than one property,” the multilayered visuals are taking us on a ride from sublime beauty and cosmic excellence to impossible horridness. A proposal that is difficult to accept but necessary to consider became the true core of the “unsteady balance of fear and bewilderment and a kind of forceful calm and stillness,” evidently discernible in these works.

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“At moments all this energy has felt like some great catalyst for change, societally and personally,” Van Minnen told Juxtapoz, explaining the background of the pictorial and technical intensity and virtuosity in this body of work. Such perceived drive pushed the artist who opposed the idea to “execute a painting” (his Instagram comment tattoo portraits probably being the culmination of such attitude), to delve into the most preplanned and organized concepts and compositions he has ever worked with. Using nude yoga photos as a reference, the works depicting a levitating figure transformed the human into a still life element assembled alongside objects, other living beings, and an assortment of bat-shit crazy forms (Skin Bone Quinacridone Adrenochrome, Shepherd, both 2021). With each of them conveying or evoking a certain emotion or response, they all earned a particular role and position in the artist’s quest to create “a believable ecosystem of the picture plane.”

And all this is just a brief description of what is happening on the surface, the sensory level of the works. Cause the charismatic title of the show, Skin Bone Quinacridone Adrenochrome (Quinacridone being an organic compound used as a pigment, and Adrenochrome being a chemical compound produced by the oxidation of adrenaline), suggest a whole other metaphysical realm of these works and Van Minnen’s practice as a whole. For him, the painting has bones, skin, and spirit. The skeleton would be the layer of grisaille, serving as the basis for the composition, the glazes act as skin, and quinacridone is an example of a synthetic, artificial, chemical, acidic, fluorescent, digital, and ultra-modern pigment. The balancing and interaction of these elements enable the construction of such separate, distinct, and contradictory narratives, most distinctively represented in figures entirely made of epicuticular wax (Thin Skin Saviour, Thin Skin St Sebastien, both 2021). Finally, this polarizing premise, just as experiences with psychedelia, conspiracy theories, or the occult, triggers the oxidation of adrenaline and the hyper-vigilant and dynamically confused state similar to the one we’ve been finding ourselves in. And by MacGyvering his way to “hold on such precariousness, fear, anxiety, and desperation and not freak the fuck out,” Van Minnen allegorized these conditions into bewildering scenes imbued with a potent, chaotic state of borderline catatonia. —Sasha Bogojev