Me, Jesus and the Children, 2001, 2003
Me, Jesus and the Children is a photo-realistic painting of the artist’s chest. His shirt is open, revealing a pendant that looks like Jesus. Superimposed on the chest are some plump cherubs. These jovial infants converse with the pendant figure in a way typical for cartoon characters – through speech bubbles. The motif can be interpreted in different ways, but perhaps most of all as a selfportrait. While it presents a part of the artist’s own body, thus fulfilling an expectation closely associated with the selfportrait genre, it also says something more general about Dan Colen’s art and how he relates to art history. Colen draws inspiration from popular culture – just as earlier artists have done. But when it comes to technical execution, it is worth comparing this painting with the perfected naturalism of Jeff Koons’ ‘painting by numbers’. Colen’s paintings nevertheless differ from Koon’s and other artists’ of his generation in how they refer back to the artist and his environment. This strange selfportrait is not primarily about pop-cultural references, but about the artist’s own history. The story the picture tells is also closely linked to the different levels of illusion. The photo-realistic chest contrasts with the Disney characters—these are taken strait from the flat pictorial world of cartoons. The confusion arising while reading the different levels of illusion is heightened by the conversation between the cherubs and the pendant. In the painting Me, Jesus and the Children, Colen combines notions of fantasy and reality and creates a humorous and personal picture that underscores his position as one of his generation’s most interesting painters.