'Drawing should be a strain' Christina Quarles tells W Magazine
The Vitamin D3 artist describes her early tuition, her racial identity and her love of ambiguity
Christina Quarles still draws in the way she was first taught to, by her tutor, Joseph Gatto, at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts. “He spoke of the muscle memory of rendering the form,” the Vitamin D3 artist tells W Magazine in a new interview. “Before making a mark, you would trace the movements to outline the figure, with just charcoal dust. When you started to draw, if you made a mistake, you wouldn’t erase it, because that would reinforce the muscle memory; instead, you should go over it with a new mark.”
It wasn’t a comfortable way to learn, the artist says; her teacher likened it to maintaining a pose, “Like a woman with all her weight on one hip—when you’re drawing it, you should register that strain,” she explains.
These days, Quarles's muscle memory for drawing is pretty much flawless. She is one of the featured artists in Vitamin D3 our new overview of contemporary drawing, and the subject of a solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
The large-scale works on show at the MCA are hugely accomplished, yet they still aren’t easy to understand or fully resolve. There are lots of bodies and body parts, yet getting a handle on how it all fits together is far from easy. And that’s sort of the point. As the text in Vitamin D3 puts it, “Her drawings and paintings are informed by the ambiguity surrounding public perception and interpretation of her physical appearance, as well as by wider questions around personal identity as manifold and fluid.”
“Christina Quarles is candid about how her gender, sexual and racial identity have affected her day-to-day experience of the world and guided her approach to creating art,” the entry in our book explains. “Quarles, whose fair skin is in apparent contradiction to her Black ancestry, is frequently identified as white.”
The artist doesn’t view herself as simply mixed race, however. “Mom is white, Dad is Black,” she tells W Magazine. “I am fair-skinned and usually seen as white by white people, but I’m seen more as mixed identity in communities of color. My experience is firmly rooted in whiteness and Blackness, rather than a hybrid of the two.”
And this simultaneous, contradictory position is key to understanding her pictures.
“Legibility, the way we understand things, is through this either/or mentality, but the reality is we have a both/and situation,” she says. “I try to resist the urge to complete any figure or form when I first lay down the paint on canvas. I’m always trying to pull out images that I didn’t originally plan. Maybe in this figure this was another leg, but then it became more interesting as an elbow.”
So, while Quarles’ fine gestural talents might be making all those limbs, it's up to the viewer to resolve it all, in his or her mind. To see more of this wonderful contemporary artist’s work, as well as much more besides, order a copy of Vitamin D3 here.