CW A male friend of mine said of your pornographic paintings that it is odd to take an image intended in a functional way—as a trigger to sexual arousal—and elaborate or elevate it into this weird, anachronistic, handmade picture to be looked at in a gallery.
JC You mean for masturbation?
JC That’s not an unusual strategy for artists now to take something and remove its function. You see it in sculpture all the time. Or in performance art, where people have meaningless work being done by laborers as a message of futility. I didn’t mean that but it is in the air. Part of it is the guilt and part of it is trying to take control of lustful images that have this automatic physiological effect on me and on men, and then redeem them. But that’s a conversation to have with a shrink.
CW It’s okay, I won’t tell anyone. [Laughs] But I think the “use” of pornography is different than the functionality of a urinal in terms of affect.
JC Here’s a metaphor: If you’re given a Leonardo painting of a nude that you’ve never seen before, and a nude photograph of your neighbor that you’ve been wondering about for five years, the picture of the neighbor is going to be more compelling. I always found it funny that painting cannot compete with even the crumbiest, most mundane photograph.
But, for me, porn is one way of engaging photography. A larger question is of the battle between photography and the painter. In my paranoid view photography represents the state or society, and painting represents the individual. Porn is the most vicious, dangerous, affective and militarized agent of photography. It’s the one that gets into your brain—at least it gets into mine.
CW You shifted in recent years from using photographic sources to live models. Some of them are your wife, right?
JC I used Rachel in my paintings more because our studios were in the same
building and she was available. And the image of her face has always naturally come out of my hand, and she is very beautiful. But more than being beautiful there is just something inevitable to me about her features. It’s a little bit like if François Boucher has this face that he puts on every single woman or person…
CW Is there a relationship between being married and being a figurative painter? Making a feature of the marriage by painting your wife seems to me to be tied up with figurative painting and its conservativeness.
JC That got complicated. There were paintings where I had put Rachel’s face in and that made me uncomfortable because they were not about Rachel, and they were maybe a harsh image of a woman, maybe mocking. I got attacked for being sexist, and they’re partly right: there are paintings that are not sweet. I sound like I’m evading something but I’m not — I’m trying to put it right. They are about feelings, they are about women and a lot of times they are hostile. I wouldn’t say hostile, but troubled.