Christina Quarles - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • Intertwined with fluidity, rhythm and poise, the bodies in Christina Quarles’s figures are often enclosed within graphical space, through a windowpane or across patterned tabletops. The torsos, faces and limbs of her entangled protagonists emerge from a patchwork of colour, pattern, and perspectives, giving us charged compositions that create an almost physical tension with the viewer.


    Quarles’s works feature abstract, line-drawn, and fragmented bodies that aim to visually represent the complexities of how we all inhabit multiple identities, selves, and forms. Informed by her own identity as a mixed-race, queer woman, Quarles investigates the universal experience of being in a body, as well as how race, gender, and sexuality intersect to form complex identities.



    Installation view of the current work (right) at
    Berkley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Christina Quarles / MATRIX 271, 19 September - 18 November 2018

    First unveiled at a group exhibition Abstract/Not Abstract organised by Gagosian and Jeffrey Deitch in 2017, then subsequently exhibited at the Berkley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive in 2018, Our Eyes Our Open/Are Eyes Are Open presents bodies in a state of flux or transformation – forms are ambiguous and fluid, melting and morphing into each other.



    In Interview: A Fresh Approach to Figuration

    “I’m really interested in exploring what it is to be within your own body looking out. I’ll often say that these are portraits, but they aren’t portraits of looking at a body — they’re portraits of living within your own body. So much of my work is about moments of intimacy when you can actually exist in all your contradictions and complications.”
    — Christina Quarles


    In 2021, Quarles was interviewed by ARTnews on her creative process, delving deep into the concept behind her unique style of figuration:


    ARTnews: Is there a gestural element to how you draw the figure?


    Christina Quarles: I approach everything in a gestural drawing way, so it’s still this emphasis on a gestural line. In grad school, I learned how to develop the tools for using gestural lines. So, that’s what really opened up painting for me: a way to have what had before been these line drawings into something that could be a line made with a really fat brush, or a line made with a brush that’s dipped in a gradient. But when I make a painting it’s still very much tied to this physical muscle memory of drawing the figure, so I will approach a canvas with a lot of internalised practice but no actual notes when I’m going to the piece.




    As the figures start to get more and more developed, then I photograph the work and bring it into my computer and I play around with Illustrator. That’s a way for me to still incorporate drawing and experimentation in this play between intention and actuality. It changes the gesture into being not this grand physical gesture but this more minute, figure gesture of a mouse trackpad. It allows me to create these digital moves that I bring back into the canvas through stencilling, which allows for a gesture that’s really not tied to my physical body—so it’s a way of mixing up the gesture that gets put into the work. I think the figure, for me, is a helpful tool because I know it so well that I can play with the limits and the stretching of legibility just because I’m so familiar with how it’s actually supposed to look.


    Read the full interview here.


    Intersection of Identity

    “The basis of the work is trying to get at what it is to be in a racialised body, to be in a gendered body, to be in a queer body, really to be in any body and the confusing place that actually is with knowing yourself.”
    — Christina Quarles 

    Tussling with culturally prescribed identities, Quarles probes and challenges the margins between definitions, where meaning is more unfixed and illegible. In Quarles' paintings, limbs, torsos and faces collide and merge with familiar domestic objects made strange through colour and gesture. Her physical representation of figures reflect this idea of exploring multiplicity and ambiguity in identity; as she explains herself, this closely relates to her own lived experience: ‘As a queer, cis woman who is black but is often mistaken as white, I engage with the world from a position that is multiply situated.’i


    Inherently filled with struggle, Quarles’ compositions are provocative, fresh, and demand the viewer’s attention. Her fluid execution of form and lines suggest a sense of ambiguity, particularly in relation to race, gender, and human relationships, and is evocative of the works of Francis Bacon, David Hockney, and Pablo Picasso.



    Francis Bacon, Lying Figure, 1969
    Fondation Beyeler, Riehen / Basel
    Artwork © 2023 Estate of Francis Bacon / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / DACS, London

    Also featuring obscured facial features and entwined torsos and limbs in his work, Francis Bacon shares the same contorted and blurred aesthetic with Quarles. Bacon’s portraits are wrought with emotion and psychological tension, depicting the inner turmoil and deepest desires of his subjects, as seen in Lying Figure. In his portrayal of the human from, Bacon utilises varying densities of paint with intersecting flat planes to anchor his composition – techniques that Quarles had also inherited.


    Set against brash, upbeat chequerboard, harlequin, dogtooth and graphic 2D backgrounds – such as the pink and blue squared floor and gradient blue backgrounds in the current work – Quarles’s bodies are cut up and interrupted by abruptly shifting planes and perspectives. Hockney also utilises a similar tactic in visually dissecting the composition with flat colourful planes. Quarles often references visual elements such as Hockney’s swimming pool swirls and floral patterns from his 1960s works, citing him as a direct influence.


    Quarles’s voice is unique from her predecessors however, in the way that she utilises a wide variety of techniques: textured brush strokes, thick smooth skins of shiny paint, stencilled patterns and airy spray coexist in a single painting. Such contrasting painterly techniques and references helps the artist to establish her own hybrid art-historical lineage. Her shapeshifting figures are representative of the artist’s own lived experience as a queer, mixed-race woman that transcends the boundaries of a simple visual experience. With exceptional dexterity and painterly innovation, Quarles encapsulates the non-binary fluid of reality, challenging the viewer to revel in the multiplicity of the universal human experience.



    Collector’s Digest


    • Born in Chicago in 1985, Los Angeles-based contemporary artist Christina Quarles received her BA from Hampshire College in 2007, where she studied Philosophy and Studio Art, and her MFA at Yale University. The artist will have a brand new museum solo exhibition this year at the Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, opening 31 March and closing 17 September.

    • Multiple paintings by Quarles were exhibited at the 59th Venice Biennale, 2022. Her most recent solo exhibition at Hauser and Wirth New York, In 24 Days tha Sun’ll Set at 7pm, had also closed 29 October, 2022, and was the first show with the gallery since the artist joined their programme in 2021. The gallery represents Quarles in conjunction with Pilar Corrias, London.


     Christina Quarles speaking about her works at the Venice Biennale, 2022
    Video Courtesy Illumina Film


    • Quarles’ other recent solo exhibitions include: Frye Art Museum, Seattle, 2022;  The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 2021; South London Gallery, 2021; X Museum, Beijing, 2021, which was the artist’s debut show in Asia; Pond Society, Shanghai, 2019 among others.

    • Christina Quarles’ work is also housed in acclaimed public collections, including Centre Pompidou in Paris, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, Hirshhorn Museum & Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C., Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles and Tate Modern in London.



    i Christina Quarles, quoted on the artist’s website, exhibition page for Berkley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Christina Quarles / MATRIX 271, 19 September - 18 November 2018, online

    • Provenance

      David Castillo Gallery, Miami
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2018

    • Exhibited

      Miami, Moore Building, Abstract/Not Abstract, 6-10 December 2017
      Berkley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, Christina Quarles / MATRIX 271, 19 September - 18 November 2018

    • Literature

      Christina Quarles and Claudia Mattos, 'Christina Quarles in conversation with Claudia Mattos', CURA. magazine, no. 27, April 2018, online (illustrated)
      Janelle Zara, "Christina Quarles’s Magnetic Paintings Are a Hit at ‘Made in L.A’", Galerie magazine, June 2018, online (illustrated)

    • Artist Biography

      Christina Quarles

      As a queer woman born to a black father and a white mother, Christina Quarles has developed a worldview defined by multiplicity. Often misrepresented as a white woman in life, Quarles creates work that confronts ideas of race, gender, and queerness. The highly expressive human forms of Quarles’s paintings hover between figuration and abstraction, paradoxically occupying both spaces at once. By incorporating the contradictions of identity into her painting, Quarles has developed an art form defined by energized formal inventiveness and semi-pictorial abstraction that has been likened to the early work of Arshile Gorky and Willem de Kooning, breathing new life into the historical legacies of their work.  

      Quarles was born in Chicago, Illinois in 1985 and was raised in Los Angeles, California. She completed her BA at Hampshire College in 2007 and earned her MFA at Yale University in 2016. Today, Quarles lives and works in Los Angeles with her wife.  

      View More Works



Our Eyes Our Open/Are Eyes Are Open

acrylic on canvas
127 x 106.7 cm. (50 x 42 in.)
Painted in 2017.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,600,000 - 2,600,000 

Sold for HK$4,064,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023