Brooklyn-based artist Christian Rex van Minnen invokes Renaissance portraiture and still life, as well as a touch of pop art, into his “neo-grotesque” painting, where vaguely humanoid figures and carefully arranged objects disgorge tumorous masses and burgeon with fungal growths. At the head of a 2009 interview with beinArt, Meg Woodsworth describes van Minnen’s work like this:
Heralded as the modern Arcimboldo, Christian Rex Van Minnen makes his way into the art world armed with old world execution, and warm colors of bittersweet chocolate and burgundy velvet. Perfect composition and color serve only as thin veils which barely distract from the dripping hordes of redundant flesh and undecipherable realms of deformation. The new king of Neo-Grotesquism springs forth with a fiery vengeance, offering beautiful reconstructions of hideous fungus, tumor-like protrusions, and flora and fauna, all married into modern yet simultaneously archaic portraiture. Enter a world where ugliness and beauty merge as one, challenging the narrow definitions of both. This is the world of Christian Rex Van Minnen.
To me, van Minnen’s paintings suggest uncontrolled biological collisions—a window into a past and a future where life runs amok. They also recall for me the cosmic terrors that lurk at the edges of the world in the tales of H.P. Lovecraft at the same time that they remind me that the seeds of our fascinated horror at the things that live and grow beyond human perception and restraint were planted in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries with the tools and techniques of the New Science. It is curious to observe van Minnen’s work in light of Margaret Cavendish’s criticism of micography. For her, writing Observations upon Experimental Philosophy in 1666, the cutting edge technology of the microscope, so innocuous to us today, was a instrument for the production of monsters:
And so it is observed, that art, for the most part, makes hermaphroditical, that is, mixt figures, partly artificial, and partly natural; . . . In the like manner, may artificial glasses present objects, partly natural, and partly artificial; nay, put the case they can present the natural figure of an object, yet that natural figure may be presented in as monstrous a shape, as it may appear misshapen rather than natural: For example; a louse by the help of a magnifying glass appears like a lobster. . . . The truth is, the more the figure by art is magnified, the more it appears misshapen from the natural, insomuch as each joint will appear as a diseased, swelled and tumid body, ready and ripe for incision. . . . And if the picture of a young beautiful lady should be drawn according to the representation of the microscope, or according to the various refraction and reflexion of light through such like glasses; it would be so far from being like her, as it would not be like a human face, but rather a monster, than a picture of nature. (Margaret Cavendish, Observations upon Experimental Philosophy, ed. Eileen O’Neill (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), pt. 1, ch. 3, “Of Micography, and of Magnifying and Multiplying Glasses,” pg. 51)