Marc Quinn (1964)
Marc Quinn was born in London in 1964 and studied history and history of art at Cambridge. He started out by working as an assistant to the sculptor Barry Flanagan (1941-2009), member of the Royal Academy known for his bronze sculptures of hares. In Flanagan’s studio, Quinn learned every sculpture technique, from modelling to casting: techniques he would continue to practice and master.
In the early 1990s, Marc Quinn became a member of the Young British Artists (YBA), alongside Tracey Emin, the Chapman brothers, and Damien Hirst, supported by the dealer Jay Jopling who exhibited their work in his gallery White Cube. Each recognised his or her work as conceptual and seeking to shake collective consciousness by questioning the relationship between art and life.
Quinn became famous in 1991 with the unprecedented work, Self. This sculpture represents a cast of the artist’s own head, which is made of 4.5 litres of his own blood. Frozen, the sculpture must continue to be stored at -18°C. This work is the first of a long-term series in which the artist produces such a work every five years in order to index the passing of time and follow the process of ageing. The blood permits him, in creating ‘a representation not only of the form of the subject, but literally in its flesh and blood’, to ‘elevate the art of the portrait to an extreme degree.’ Inspired by Rembrandt’s continuous process of self-portraiture, Quinn hereby grapples with the question of the link between life and death, between the physical and spiritual, which he would continue to explore.
In the 1990s and years following, Quinn created numerous sculptures depicting different body parts, hands and faces in particular, using a surprising diversity of materials, from the more classic materials such as marble and bronze, to metal (precious and not: gold, silver, lead), to wax, rubber, and even bread.
Simultaneously, Quinn realised an installation called Garden (2000), which brought together flowers from around the world, immortalising their beauty in silicone gel. This ‘garden of Eden’, which he described as an ‘eternal spring’, responds to our desire for perfection and permanence. Quinn explained: ‘These plants, in order to look like they live forever, they have to give up their life. What was really engaging for me, when you put a plant in frozen silicone it immediately freezes and is no longer a plant – it becomes a sculpture of the plant. It’s the purest form of making sculpture, because you get the actual object and then that object, made of atoms, becomes a sculpture of itself. It’s happened in a magical moment – and it’s the moment of release. It’s like you find it in religion – transfiguration, when people get taken to heaven’ (interview with Germano Celant, 2013).
In 2001 the artist embraced scientific techniques to create visually unconventional works. First, he was commissioned to represent the portrait of John E. Sulston, who won the Nobel Prize in 2002 for sequencing the genome of the worm. In this portrait, the DNA of the researcher was taken, introduced into bacteria which were multiplied in agar (extracted from Asian algae), which was mixed with water to form a jelly… and the multiplied DNA became the portrait of the geneticist (presented in a rectangular stainless steel frame). Quinn utilised the same technique to create DNA Garden, a grid-like presentation of the genetic material of seventy-five plants and that of a man and a woman also in a stainless-steel frame: an ‘ancestral portrait,’ a genetic ‘garden of Eden’ that invites a spiritual and scientific enquiry into the origin of all life.
The artist continued to explore the representation of life by focusing on bodies with congenital or amputated malformations resulting from an accident. Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005), a colossal statue in Carrara marble weighing 15 tonnes, represents an English artist who was born without arms and with atrophied legs. The sculpture was installed in Trafalgar Square and sparked controversy: to some it was perceived as an insult to the handicapped, but for the artist and his model, it was an invitation to the public for a new perception and appreciation of the body, promoting for the first time in art history, the beauty of an atypical body.
Since then, Marc Quinn has continued to explore the themes of life and body, dealing with the human figure – questioning the development of life, physical anomalies related to sexual identity and the power of science – in essence, our relationship to nature and the world.
The series Evolution (2007) in pink marble traces in eight stages the growth of a human foetus into a child. The statue Thomas Beatie (2009) shakes up natural and cultural norms by representing the very first male transsexual to carry a pregnancy to term and legally give birth. In the same spirit are his paintings and sculptures of other celebrities such as Michael Jackson, the striptease artist Chelsea Charms known for her massive breasts, Dennis Avner called ‘Cat Man’ who has utilised techniques from surgery to tattoos to make himself look like a tiger, and even Quinn’s staging of the LGBT couple Buck Angel and Allanah Starr, the first male and female transsexuals to have filmed a pornographic film.
Marc Quinn’s most well-known works are a series of sculptures begun in 2006 which depict the fashion model Kate Moss in various contorted yoga postures. Most often they are in bronze, painted or gilded, such as Sphinx (2006); but Siren (2008), an over-life sized sculpture in solid 18 carat gold, evokes an idealised, abstracted image of Pharaonic splendour according to the artist, for whom the model ‘irradiates love and light while remaining implacable and silent.’ ‘I see these two works like sculptures of a cultural superego’, he continued.
In 2015, Marc Quinn created an exhibition dedicated to man’s environmental impact on nature: distorted, two- and three-dimensional works of marine landscapes alongside a series of monumental sculptures in steel and concrete called ‘Frozen Waves’, comprising shells eroded by the incessant movement of the ever-rising sea level.
Marc Quinn’s work is on view throughout the world, in the public collections of the Tate Modern and National Portrait Gallery in London, the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and the Museum of Modern Art and Metropolitan Museum in New York.
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