The Los Angeles-based artist Christina Quarles makes luscious paintings in vibrant candy hues that she describes as portraits not of looking at the body but of living within it, looking out at the world. As a queer cis-woman with a black father and a white mother, she seeks to convey her fragmented and multiple sense of self in her works. This is largely achieved through composition and structural devices – planes slice abruptly through bodies, sinuous limbs and torsos push up against the frame and melt into balletic contortions in a give-and-take negotiation across the canvas.
Quarles’s latest series of paintings, on display at Pilar Corrias gallery in London, was made between March and September this year at her studio in Altadena, California during the coronavirus-imposed lockdown. The show’s title, I Won’t Fear Tumbling Or Falling/If We’ll be Joined in Another World, comes from a book of Japanese poetry and reflects her sense that we are stumbling and falling chaotically, suspended in a strange in-between space. The outside windows of the gallery have been tinted so that the light coming in is orange, echoing the feeling Quarles had during quarantine of being trapped, like an insect in amber, while downstairs the works are set against midnight blue walls. Within the works, the flux between slowly shifting seasonal light and the rapid artificial light of phones and computers, adds to the thrilling, disorienting fluidity overall.
Christina Quarles. I'll Take Tha Nite Shift, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm (72 1/8 x 60 x 2 in). Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio.
The nine paintings evoke the oppressiveness of quarantine, as well as the exacerbated sense of disembodiment from being on Zoom calls, socially distancing and interacting from behind masks. In I’ll Take tha Nite Shift, the figures – all entwined arms and legs – seem to huddle against an external menace, flowers invade the box-like space and a spectral presence crouches under the floorboards.
Christina Quarles. Edge of Tomorrow, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 182.9 x 152.4 x 5.1 cm (72 x 60 x 2 in). Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio.
Edge of Tomorrow depicts an anxious-looking, bound figure, naked buttocks splayed, watched over by a tranquil figure, the two perhaps expressing the contradictory emotional states induced by lockdown. Quarles is interested in the multifaceted nature of intimacy, not just the sexiness and closeness but the darker side that occurs in grief, sickness and death.
Christina Quarles. Tha Nite Could Last Ferever, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 213.4 x 182.9 x 5.1 cm (84 x 72 x 2 in). Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio.
The languorous sensuality of Tha Nite Could Last Ferever contrasts sharply with the immanent violence of They’ll Cut Us Down Again. Created against a backdrop of rising Covid deaths, the police slaying of George Floyd and raging fires across California, these paintings are haunted by melancholy, replacing the sassy celebratory tone of Quarles’s previous works.
Christina Quarles. They'll Cut Us Down Again, 2020. Acrylic on canvas, 152.4 x 182.9 x 5.1 cm (60 x 72 x 2 in). Courtesy of the artist and Pilar Corrias, London. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen Studio.
Born in Chicago in 1985, Quarles has a BA from Hampshire College and an MFA from Yale School of Art. Her recent exhibitions include Radical Figures at the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2020); In Likeness at the Hepworth Wakefield (2019); Made in LA at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2018); Trigger: Gender as a Tool and as a Weapon at the New Museum, New York (2017-18). She has solo shows scheduled for 2021 at the MCA Chicago, the X Museum, Beijing, and the South London Gallery.
Christina Quarles: I Won’t Fear Tumbling Or Falling/If We’ll be Joined in Another World
Pilar Corrias, London
8 October – 21 November 2020
Interview by ELIZABETH FULLERTON
Film edited by MARTIN KENNEDY
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