30 Under 35 2019

Christina Quarles Upends History with the Brush

William J. Simmons

Photography by Aubrey Mayer

Christina Quarles
Christina Quarles painting in her Los Angeles studio, 2018.

Christina Quarles works with paint in order to deconstruct its assumptions and weighty historical lineage: “I find the baggage that comes along with painting—the unspoken but highly regulated historical context that structures the legibility, taste and value of a painting—to be a useful medium to unpack identity and what it is to live in a body. Socio-historical ideals that are Western, heteronormative, patriarchal and white supremacist remain the status quo in part by operating under the radar of being natural and given.” Quarles thereby upends the presumptions of the status quo by critically inhabiting art historical space.

Casually Cruel, 2018. Courtesy of artist and Pilar Corrias.

Though her work certainly has a deconstructive aspect, there is also an investment in the corporeal nature of beauty and enjoyment—something affirmative and earnest rather than critical or ironic. She says, “I embrace beauty in order to make paintings that are a refuge for those of us who experience ambiguity on a daily basis—but I also employ beauty in order to captivate and hopefully unlock the potential for ambiguity within those who have never had cause to question their own identity position.” The generosity of bringing in those who do not identify as queer, non-white or female, is perhaps the core of Quarles’ expansive work—its resonances are as varied as the resonances of identity itself. The beauty she employs becomes a subversive beauty, an opportunity to multiply the representational possibilities available to artists and viewers alike.