Christina Quarles
Bottoms Up

The title of the painting refers to the fact that the figure’s behind is raised upwards and the face is found at the bottom of the painting, thus inverting the way in which people are normally seen. Bottom’s up is also a pun, a nod to the English toast. Quarles draws on a number of sources of inspiration, including comic book imagery, the influence of which sits alongside elements of her practice informed by life drawing classes. She begins a painting by making gestural marks which she then photographs before playing with the image on a computer. These gestures retain a muscle memory from her life-drawing practice, coalescing into a figure. She then experiments with different kinds of decorative grids and backgrounds before returning to paint the resulting image. In this painting the artist refers to two different treatments of space, three dimensional on the right and flat or two dimensional on the left. The paint itself is highly textured in places and flat in others. The decorative quality of the painting mimics, in some respects, cubist mark-making reminiscent of Picasso; there is a gravitational pull on both the image and the paint as the figure and paint are dragged down the canvas. The synthetic manner in which Quarles constructs the painting is belied by the overall painterly qualities.

Christina Quarles’ work is concerned with the female body. Not so much what it looks like, but what it feels like to inhabit it. She makes images in which the body is fragmented, distorted, stretched out of shape, occupying impossible spaces and sliding through dimensions and time. The resulting images have something of a collaged look and are somewhat otherworldly, they retain enough reference to reality however to suggest bodily and sexual encounters that question gender and identity. As a lesbian who is black but often mistaken for white, Quarles paints self-referentially. There is a strong sensual nature to the work, giving it an air of neo-surrealism.