Vitamin D3 interview Christina Quarles
We speak to this contemporary artist, featured in Phaidon's new, indispensable survey of contemporary drawing
“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,” writes Ellen Mara De Wachter in Vitamin D3, Phaidon’s new, indispensable survey of contemporary drawing. “Quarles, whose fair skin is in apparent contradiction to her Black ancestry, is frequently identified as white. She expands, in a statement on her website: ‘As a Queer, cis-woman, born to a Black father and a white mother, I engage with the world from a position that is multiply situated.’ Quarles, who studied both philosophy and studio arts, takes a conceptual approach to image-making. 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.
“Drawing and painting coexist in Quarles’s practice, and she credits her work in paint with enabling her to find a way of expressing the drawn line. Her drawings inhabit the picture plane in engaging and challenging ways, inviting the eye on circuitous and occasionally devious pathways around the image. Her drawings often spread out to the edge of the paper, sometimes dissolving out of frame to hint at the porousness between what is contained within, and without of, the image. This permeability relates to the ways in which the human body is both contained by and exceeds its outlines, its skin. Through a playful use of language, puns and phrases resembling cracked mantras, other works carry the potential for even more open-ended meanings, as in the text panel featured in Untitled (Jus’ Cause) (2018), which proclaims ‘A just cause, jus’ because’.
“There is a tender intimacy to Quarles’s depictions of bodies, which are often shown at rest, reclining alone or in company. In Untitled (All There Was To Be Set) (2018) a figure on hands and knees is positioned on a flying carpet hovering above the ground, while a second person kneels on a patterned tablecloth and reaches back to touch the first. In these vulnerable – perhaps submissive – positions, the human body becomes legible as a collection of surfaces, left blank and made available as a screen for the viewer’s imaginative projections. In Quarles’s images figures grasp at the promise of tactile contact, sometimes reaching out for their own limbs, as in Untitled (Lite of My Life, Yew Lite Up My Night) (2018) in which a reclining nude touches their own, upwardly extended foot. If contemporary society stokes the fantasy of an optimized physique, within which all systems run smoothly to fulfil ideals of glowing health and exultant wealth, Quarles’s depictions of figures subject to fragmentation and displace-ment offer a more sincere take on what it is like to live within one’s body and in the company of others.”