Impressions of the paintings by Christina Quarles

Naked bodies that dance in and out of planes. Figures that sprawl and writhe under the loose eroticism of the body, undulating with sexuality and the grotesque. This is the body-pounding impression of the paintings and drawings by Christina Quarles.

Each painting by the American born, Los Angeles based artist contains a tangle of felt sensations, that even in images online, seem to leak out of the canvas and into the body of the viewer.

Her use of paint varies from loose washes to thick pastes, stencilled and dripped, brushed or blended. Control vies with freedom of movement, so that your eye desires to roam greedily across the surface of the painting and discover the instictive marks.

Quarles leaves the canvas raw in sections, confusing what the edge of the canvas really represents. This composition means visceral feelings within the painting are not contained or trapped by the edge of the canvas. Gaps in the paint open the works up to feel spacious. The light tones and colour palettes in some of her paintings, such as Sumday (We Gunna Rest on) Sunday remind me of 1980s Los Angeles graphic posters, which perhaps is not coincidental. I feel I am in a land where the skies are big and blue, and the ground is lush. In other paintings, the setting feels interior. The lack of any directional light make the scene appear closed, such as in Bless tha Nightn’gale, and I feel like a voyeur let in on a private world.

The impression of being inside and outside is from Quarles use of flat planes, constructed from gradient or patterned paint and angled into the distance, so as to create the illusion of depth and space within the painting. Obscured figures are then wrapping themselves around these planes, or wading through them, or pulled into or out of them. Notice I use ‘wrapping’ rather than wrap’ and ‘wading’ rather than ‘wade’, which feels fitting since the figures seem to be in the act of moving and doing, in the most active sense. But back to the planes, they ground the figures in some sense of location; a landscape, a room, a bed. We are given just enough information to ponder whether these bodies are based on a real life event – is that patch of pattern a picnic rug or a bed sheet? Did one or many of the multitudes in each painting really happen?

This ambivalence leaves the viewer to sit in witnessing something fascinating, revolting, beautiful, obscure, ambivalent, and somehow totally real. But my eye cannot rest, because once `I have scanned the painting once, I have been given so much, but not quite enough. And I need to skim across the marks again and again, indulging in the playful figures, submerging myself into Quarles’ world once more.

I’m feeling so inspired by these works. Quarles’ painting taps into something quite animal in all of us. You can feel it in her manipulation of paint and compositional decisions, and that I think is quite a painterly achievement. I feel I am trying to accomplish something similar in accessing such a visceral-bodily experience in my own work. How to manipulate paint to achieve this gut-body effect? Is it in the variation of paint thickness and texture? Does this reflect how we perceive the world in patches of concentration? This investigation is what I work towards. Larger paintings allow for broader ranges of mark making, I think I need to build some big stretchers and get going!

I am thinking of all of this in relation to landscape, and experiences of it. It’s excites me and I can’t wait to see where I it leads!

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