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The two friends’ styles contradict boldly, but Barnaby Whitfield and Aaron Johnson’s work is united by their wry, macabre sense of humor, and their desire to reinvent painting for all of the genre’s naysayers. Whitfield, for whom John Currin is an obvious influence, paints modern yet Romantic women and men with a pastiche of symbolism and references to pop culture and art history. Sexuality, too, plays a major role in his work, and his own face, as well as others, will appear on both male and female bodies: “I Can’t Get Out of What I’m Into With You” puts Hillary Clinton’s eyes on Abraham Lincoln’s face. Johnson’s work is more Freudian and psychedelic, with political commentary layered into a reductive painting technique that can even involve using urine to corrode his acrylic paint. Even this is not a reinvention of painting—Warhol and other artists have put piss to canvas before—but the desire to reinvent painting is as persistent as the rumor against which these artists rebel: that painting is dead.
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