An Artist Whose Language Is Painting

Christina Quarles, 38, who grew up in Los Angeles as the fair-skinned daughter of a black father and a white mother, recalls the first time her identity was questioned. “When I was in grade school, there was a book that brought together famous black people. Throughout history, my Nana has been there,” she said. (Her paternal grandmother, Norma Quarles, was one of the first black television journalists.) , you are not black.'” It was because I was raised with my own personal sense of my biography, and that I met with great resistance when expressing it to people. It was a disconnect between “

This sense of fragmentation enlivens her paintings, and encountering them can be a fascinating but disorienting experience. On her canvases, polymorphic and shape-shifting figures collide and intertwine. Head grows. Her limbs get entangled. A graduate of Yale University’s fine arts program, which has produced new pioneers of black art such as Chabalala Self and Jordan Castile, Quarls’s paintings explode the very concept of figurative painting into something more abstract and racially charged. explores how , gender and sexuality intersect, and what it means to live in a body. Quarls works from her memory without planning, painting directly on canvas with gestural brushstrokes. In her words, she responds to “the interaction between the creation of physical marks and the process of seeing and imagining what the next step might be.” There are many factors that I cannot control or predict. ” I then photographed the work and imported it into Adobe Illustrator. After graduating from college, she worked briefly as a graphic designer for her. So she crops or distorts the image. She then uses a vinyl stencil to apply a digital pattern to the canvas. For her, her use of Illustrator is “a way of introducing the process of sketching in the middle of a painting”, a means of directing and concentrating the composition of her work. The tension between digital and analogue, ecstasy and pain, her vacillation between confinement and freedom, powers her work.

Quarles was born in Chicago and moved to Los Angeles with her mother when she was six years old after her parents divorced. Quarles grew up living near the museum district during a particularly frenzied time in Los Angeles, when the racially diverse neighborhood was rocked by the Los Angeles riots and the O.J. Simpson trial. “When I was a kid, I felt like every few years something dramatic happened and I would miss a few days of school,” she recalled. Quarles said from an early age that she wanted to be a full-fledged artist. She took a drawing class at the age of 12 (which she continues to practice today), and she would later graduate from the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts. As an undergraduate at Hampshire University in Massachusetts, she studied philosophy in addition to studio art. “She wanted to explore what it was like to use language,” she says. In a way, her paintings express the difficulty of fully expressing her identity as a biracial and queer woman. “Her expression can be stifling at times,” she says. “Sometimes we censor our own experiences because we want others to understand.

Mr. Quarles has had a whirlwind of the past few years. She will have her biggest exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in 2021, debuted at the Venice Biennale last April, and the following month her 2019 painting sold for a record $4.50. was done. She made $1 million at Sotheby’s. After her show at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof earlier this year, Quarles debuted a series of new works entitled ‘Come In From an Endless Place’ at Hauser & Wirth’s Menorca base in June. The new exhibition features large canvas paintings, fine line drawings and, for the first time, Quarls’ paintings on paper.

During the pandemic, Quarles worked in a two-car converted garage behind his home in Altadena, Los Angeles, which he shared with his wife, filmmaker Alyssa Polk. 18-month-old daughter Lucinda. and their friend (and Lucinda’s godfather) Blake Beshalian. Since then, she’s relocated in her car to her 20-by-20-foot shop seven minutes away, while a new studio, her space, is being built behind the house. she says: “Anytime I can get a job very close to where I live, I find that it’s my favorite job.” I jumped on the phone and answered Mr. T’s artist questionnaire.

what is your day like? How much sleep do you get and what is your work schedule like?

We take Mondays and Fridays off for practical matters, but we try to maintain 9-5 office hours to ensure 3 full days of uninterrupted studio time. When I used to work from home, I used to work seven days a week, but I’ve found that having a weekend off is actually very important if you have a studio where you have to travel. Otherwise, you will get sick. Or hurt yourself.I’m trying to find a balance and take a break, like going to Huntington College. [Botanical] Garden with baby. I feel kind of guilty because everyone in my family knows I’m meeting this crazy deadline. For the first time in a long time, I realized that I no longer had to do the morning shift with my baby.

Where is the worst studio ever?

Looking back, I think it was my downtown LA studio from 2012 to 2014, right before I entered graduate school. It was very cheap, around $200 a month, so I met a lot of really cool artists there and shared a studio with a friend who was a great studio and his partner. The problem was that it was a large common space with thin walls, so I could hear everyone coming into the studio. We had one windowless space, but got all the UV damage from other people’s large windows. We all called it a baked potato because it has a big silver dome and gets so hot. My wife called me every few hours while I was working there to make sure I hadn’t passed out. But it was my first studio, so I remember it fondly.

What was the first work of art you made?

When I was in third grade, my cousin told me that if I wanted to make a Christmas present for him, he would give me an art class. We went to an art supply store and bought 3 small canvas boards and some acrylic paint. And I made a small still life painting of flowers in a coke bottle.

What was the first piece of art you sold, and do you remember how much it sold for?

When I was in high school, I used to draw small drawings on tracing paper and sell them at craft fairs for $50. And I remember feeling it was the most demoralizing and degrading experience. People would walk by and say, “Oh, that’s not very good, is it?” I remember thinking, “God, I will never do this again!”

And when did you feel comfortable calling yourself a professional artist?

When I was applying to graduate school in 2014, I had several schools to choose from, one of which was Yale University. And her wife urged me to ask myself what I wanted to get out of graduate school. And I think that was the first time I said it aloud. “I actually want to go to the best art school so I can be one of the best painters.” It takes a lot of confidence to say you want to be successful as an artist. One of the things that keeps certain marginalized groups from reaching the pinnacle of success is that someone’s motives are constantly questioned and their choices need to be justified.

How many assistants do you have?

I don’t really have a studio assistant. Over the last few years, I’ve worked with someone in the role of studio manager who was very supportive in organizing emails and files. However, I have only recently started working with the people who helped me create this very large installation. Now that I have a baby, he can’t move back and forth on a 15-by-7-foot canvas in my tiny studio.

How often do you talk to other artists?

I’m friends with a lot of artists, so all the time. I wish I had more time to visit studios with them, but that’s something I lose as I progress in my career. It’s very nostalgic and I would like to make it a priority to visit my friend’s studio again.

What’s your favorite piece of art you own that other people have made?

There is a work by Chabalala Self. It’s in our living room and it’s a beautiful piece and I love it. I did this trade in graduate school. I remember having many drawings that I did in ink. She came over and she took a lot of it, and she said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll give you a really good piece,’ and she did. I recently purchased a 2020 “Swamps” series of photos by Catherine Opie as a Christmas present for my wife.

What kind of music do you listen to in the studio?

I’ve been listening to and adding music to this playlist since my residency in Miami in 2017. Hearing the same music over and over again is effective because it just keeps returning to the same mind and doesn’t require the same attention. Also, I’m so embarrassed to say it all the time, but I listen to a lot of show tunes and musicals.

Are there any meals that you eat repeatedly while working?

it’s not. Eating at work distracts me, so sometimes I only drink protein shakes. It’s so sweet – either my wife or my friend Blake who lives with us will deliver a very nice lunch to the studio – so it’s either a beautiful and lovely gourmet lunch or a protein shake. It is

What’s the weirdest object in your studio?

I have many good things. I love the quirky decorations in my studio. I have this little gold easel about 8 inches tall with packets of fake ketchup and fake mustard on it. I have this giant strawberry vase with flowers. Every time her wife tries to throw something out, I say, “No, I’ll leave it in the studio.”

What was the last time you cried?

Recently, my daughter got sick for the first time, which made me very sad. Most of the times I cry these days it’s either emotional events about my daughter or emotional events about the news.

This exhibition, the first of its kind for Quarls, will feature many paintings on paper, including this work “It’s Been 7hours” (2023). Quarles has found that working on a smaller scale “allows me to bring my ideas to life faster.”credit…© Christina Quarles. Courtesy of artists Hauser & Wirth and Pilar Corrias, London.Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

How has having children changed your practice and the way you work?

This body of work reflects a shift in my practice. Having a child is in some ways a similar experience to painting. It’s like having the knowledge you’ve been told, or what you’ve read, and having the daily experience of using all those skills. You must always be in the moment and engaged with the present. Both have the beauty, the miracle and the wonder of the whole experience, at the same time embedded in this continuous routine and monotony. The point is that I really love both, but there’s not enough time in one day.

You talked about starting each painting without a plan. How will I know when the work has been completed?

This is difficult. Certain things that usually determine completion or undo do not apply to my work. This is because large areas of the raw canvas will remain unprocessed in the final work. So for me it’s not the application of paint that determines the finish, it’s really a tension between what renders more fully and what doesn’t. It’s about having this sense of composition that isn’t necessarily fully resolved, or perhaps too resolved, or maybe even crazy. To judge perfection, the transition from the person making the work to the person viewing the work is important. When I can move my eyes and mind to move through the picture and no longer try to solve it, understand it, add to it or subtract from it, I say, “OK, I think that’s probably the case.” end.

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