The first major solo museum presentation in Spain of British artist Marc Quinn at CAC Málaga
includes a selection of new and recent works that continue Quinns investigation into some of the key concerns of our age. Violence and Serenity curated by Fernando Francés, focusing on such wide-ranging themes as notions of identity, mapping and our biological and cultural evolution, Quinns work incorporates a range of media including sculpture, painting, tapestry, photography and drawing.
Quinn first came to international prominence in the 1990s when he produced some of the periods most iconic works such as Self (1991), a sculptural self-portrait made using his own blood, and Incarnate (1996), which is included in this exhibition. Since then, an uncompromising use of materials and a conceptual rigour combine in works that address, head-on, our biological mortality, the diminishing state of the natural world and the overriding power of human desire.
For Fernando Francés, Director of the CAC Málaga: The natural course of life and scientific advances intended to avoid destruction and death come face-to-face in Marc Quinns work and his oeuvre precisely reflects what reality prefers not to reveal. Military conflicts taking place around the world are notably present in his latest series (
) Beauty in death and violence, representations of bodies and living beings impossible to find in nature, displaying themselves to the human eye as they have never done before, portraits made from DNA: in sum, Marc Quinns work invites us to constantly challenge the principles and pillars of human knowledge. The viewer enters a laboratory in which science succumbs before art and death before eternal beauty.
This exhibition centres around a new body of work entitled The Toxic Sublime, distorted landscapes that blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture. In these works, Quinn begins with a contradictory process: a sublime image of a beautiful sunrise, applied to a sheet of aluminium, is submitted to a process of toxic disintegration, alteration and decay through a layer of spray paint and repetitive sanding. As part of this lengthy process, Quinn adds in elements to his composition from the real world of the street, such as chains or pothole covers, which are placed under the work during the sanding so that their ghostly outlines appear in the image. Moreover, holes, lines and striations in the surface of the work are amplified by a process of bending and folding the aluminium. The resulting paintings although retaining the elements of a landscape or seascape, with their horizontal, tonal gradations have the physical presence of sculpture, appearing more like discarded remnants from a physical disaster or simply gnarled detritus gathered from our immediate environment.
In The Creation of History and History Painting series, which comprises oil paintings on canvas and jacquard tapestries, Quinn again returns to an ancient form of art, the history painting, but brings it right into the present day by focusing on how our subjective response to and collective memory of contemporary events can create our historical past. In these works, Quinn selects familiar media images of recent conflict such as images of masked rioters in Istanbul, protestors in Rio de Janeiro, and anti-austerity demonstrators in Greece and repaints them in large-scale canvases. Individuals are focused on and singled out with fluid and exuberant splashes of colour which both obscures and heightens the tension within each image. Although the works comment, in some way, on the all-pervasive and intrusive nature of our media, they nonetheless remain intimate portraits of individuals who are actively caught up in history. Quinns tapestries continue this idea, being an almost literal manifestation of the notion of history as an interweaving of different threads or stories, as well as a modern-day, analogue version of the pixelated, media image.
Notions of identity and control, aggression and submission are present in Labyrinth Painting (MQ300 CR) (2012) and in the iris paintings and sculptures, in which detailed images of a human iris are transformed into a kind of microscopic map of an individuals identity. The Labyrinth paintings also incorporate a form of identification, our fingerprint, referencing the relentless attempts to control individual movement and freedom in an uncontrollable world.
Themes of mapping continue in Towards a New Geography (Orebody) (2014), which presents the world as contingent, its map simply a metaphor for something that is constantly fluid and evolving. These new geographical zones, which are painted in black oil paint but appear similar to the stains of real oil itself, tentatively suggest the effects of ongoing national and geographic change, whereby economic and political forces haphazardly shape, and reduce, the natural world.
The work Self Portrait after Zurbarán (The Shadow) (2014) forms part of a series of paintings in oil on canvas where the artist depicts himself in various street guises, either with his own eyes or with the eyes of others. These self-portraits call into question how certain choices of clothing and uniforms of street culture can elicit immediate responses in the mind of the viewer, framing the sitter as a recognisable type, regardless of who the actual person really is. Likewise, Quinns recent series of concrete sculptures such as Id (2012), Zombie Boy (City) (2011) and The Beauty of Healing (2014) depict contemporary anti-establishment figures such as rioters in masks, hoodies or tattooed travellers. In Life Breathes the Breath (Inspiration) (2012), Quinn portrays himself as a Buddha-like glowing figure, sitting cross-legged on the floor, dressed in the uniform of urban youth jeans, hoodie and a cap contemplating an upturned skull as if looking straight into the abyss of his own mortality.
These notions of mortality, flesh and death as well as the concerns of still life as memento mori are continued in both the Flesh painting series and the new carving sculptures formed from different types of precious stone. The Flesh Paintings point to one of Quinns most consistent themes: our reliance on and relationship to nature and to our own mortality. In these works, animal flesh is painted in close-up, creating purely abstract works that emphasise the beauty of natures own patterning but, at the same time, bringing the viewer face to face with their own fears and repulsion from death. The painting depicts dead meat in a literal manner, but in such close-up that the unctuous folds and detailed marbling make for beautiful and opulent images. Similarly, in The Invention of Carving (2013), a sculpture of an oversized Spanish Serrano ham in pink onyx inspired by the meat sculptures of the Ching dynasty (1644-1911), Quinn marries the idea of our appetite for food with our appetite for art, questioning both their evolution and mutual correlation.
In Stealth Desire (Etymology) (2013) and The Architecture of Life (2013), Quinn also uses the forms of natural ready-mades which he modifies through the process of recent three-dimensional technology. The Architecture of Life adopts one of the most perfect pre-existing sculptural forms: a shell, which is enlarged and cast in bronze. The inside of the sculpture is highly polished, its reflective depths contrasting with the textured rings on the outside which represent its natural age, creating a synchronisation of past and present in one unique form.
Marc Quinn is one of the leading artists of his generation. His sculptures, paintings and drawings explore the relationship between art and science, the human body and the perception of beauty, among other things. In 1991 Quinn came to prominence with his sculpture Self (1991); a cast of the artists head made from his own frozen blood. Other acclaimed works include Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005), exhibited on the fourth plinth at Trafalgar Square, London, and Siren (2008) a solid gold sculpture of Kate Moss displayed at The British Museum, London. He has shown internationally in museums and galleries including Tate Gallery, London (1995), Musée Océanographique, Monaco (2012) and Arter, Space for Art, Istanbul (2014).