Beyond Definition

Beyond Definition

Vibrant colours. Abstracted figures. Enclosed spaces. American artist Christina Quarles (b. 1985) creates bright and complex paintings loaded with meaning. The works, on view at The Hepworth Wakefield, are at once claustrophobic and enlivening. Conveying “the experience of living in a body rather than looking at a body,” each image asks questions about representations of the human form – pushing past traditional boundaries to offer new definitions.

Bodies bend backwards and around one another, creating intriguing shapes. Characters push against enclosing walls – engulfed by domestic space. Plants, rugs, tables and wallpaper become props within confident line drawings. Literary fragments, often taken from songs or poems, contextualise the images, drawing on musical and autobiographical touchstones. These text-based references to popular culture evoke the early works of David Hockney, on view in adjacent galleries.

The Bradford-born painter was an inspiration for Quarles, who recollects: “I grew up near the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and, in my youth, I was often transfixed by Hockney’s painting, Mulholland Drive: The Road to the Studio. I find it quite meaningful that my first international museum exhibition will be held in the very place where the paintings of Alan Davie inspired a young David Hockney over 60 years ago.”

In escaping definition, the pieces reflect the artist’s personal experiences of misrepresentation as a queer cis woman, born to a black father and white mother. They move dialogues away from a hetero-normative, male and predominantly white history of painting, providing an alternative narrative that is fluid and ever-evolving. A resistance to legibility becomes a gesture of political resistance – as facial features become obscured and skin is rendered in a spectrum of shifting colour.

Andrew Bonacina, Chief Curator, notes: “Christina Quarles is an artist who has developed a unique painterly language out of her own experience of the world and in dialogue with the timely social movements addressing issues of identity and representation. I think that this exhibition will be revelatory and profoundly moving for many of our visitors.”

The exhibition is open 19 October – 19 January. Find out more here.

Lead image: Christina Quarles, Let Us In Too (Tha Light), 2018. Courtesy of the artist, Pilar Corrias Gallery, London and Regen Projects, Los Angeles.