Christina Quarrels paints expressive, gestural works whose compositions reference domestic space with polymorphous, contorted figures. Her art explores her identity as a woman of mixed race in paintings of vibrant colors, textures, and patterns. A queer-identifying, biracial, Quarles is often mistaken for white because of her light skin color. However, she identifies as both black and white.
Quarles was born in Chicago but lives and works in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from Hampshire College, Amherst in 2007. In 2016, she received her M.F.A. from Yale University. In the same year she completed a residency at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. She has received several awards and grants, including a Traveling Fellowship from Yale University.
She paints with acrylic paint thinned to the consistency of watercolor but often applies it in thick impasto. Parts of some canvases remain bare, while other sections are heavily built up. Her ambiguous, semi-figurative paintings combine figurative representation and abstraction as her subjects are portrayed with fractured, contorted, and entwined bodies as their rubbery, stretched-out limbs wind around each other. Her disembodied, disjointed people are either locked in an embrace or are groping towards one another in pain. As one person’s body of one color merges into another person of a different color, the viewer is forced to confront questions of race and gender. Which parts belong to which body?
While her female figures are often engaged in erotic acts, carnal pleasure can be tinged with pain. “A Shadow of What I Once Was” shows two females embracing on a floor with the lower figure being swallowed up. “Pull on Thru tha Night” shows two female figures with one of them bent over, carrying an elongated third body on her back. She is supported by a seated figure with her exposed breast dripping blood.
Her work was on view in “Made in L.A. 2018” at the Hammer Museum. Her “Forced Perspective (And I Know It’s Rigged, but It’s the Only Game in Town)” was one of several trompe l’oeil paintings of flowered ‘wallpaper’ that she made, interrupting domestic space with flattened, multicolored images of nude women entwined with their bodies pushing against physical norms.
In addition to the Hammer Museum, her work has appeared in group exhibitions in New York’s New Museum of Contemporary Art, the Studio Museum in Harlem, LAXArt, Rubell Family Collection, and the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena.
She was featured at the Portland Museum of Art in the summer of 2018 and had solo exhibitions in Miami, Los Angeles, and at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive at U.C. Berkeley. Her work is in the public collections of Tate Modern, Walker Art Center, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Hammer Museum, and Perez Art Museum in Miami.