Christina Quarles, Hangin’ There, Baby, 2021. Acrylic on canvas. 77 x 96 x 2 inches (195.6 x 243.8 x 5.1 cm). Acquired through the generosity of an anonymous donor and Jeanne L. Wasserman Art Acquisition Fund. Courtesy the artist and Hauser and Wirth. © Christina Quarles
Rooted in fluidity and intimacy, the vivid paintings of Los Angeles-based artist Christina Quarles challenge and upend deeply ingrained ideas related to identity and the body in figuration. Quarles mobilizes diverse techniques such as dripping, smearing, or scraping to allow her figures to exceed their corporeal frames and evade the easy legibility sometimes expected of bodies marked by race, gender, and sexuality. Hangin’ There, Baby was included in Quarles’s standout presentation in The Milk of Dreams, the main exhibition of the 59th Venice Biennale. The intertwining figures in Hangin’ There, Baby are staged in a cryptic environment emerging from the right side of the canvas, much of which has been left untreated on the opposite side. Throughout, the play between raw, unworked portions of canvas and tightly stylized concentrations of activity gives the painting its sense of drama. A lone, loosely rendered figure in the center of the canvas writhes in seeming ecstasy against a flat plane whose purple drop shadow recalls Quarles’s early training in graphic design. The painting’s action is sustained mostly in the cluster of unfixed, contorted figures who are gathered in a densely painted section in the upper right corner. These sensuously intertwined bodies are set within and against a backdrop that recalls the night sky, pressed against the hard edge of a triangular, painterly construction that nevertheless cannot contain them. As in much of Quarles’s work, the planes and patterns that delineate environments both situate and bisect bodies, framing them and fragmenting them simultaneously. The faces of several figures in the group are rendered in a polychromatic impasto, while others are spare and elongated, suggested mostly in sketched outlines. Pattern bursts from the canvas at different, highly controlled moments, especially in the camouflage-patterned shape that hangs like a curtain or blanket along the right side. This work captures Quarles’s painting of intimate domestic scenes in which figures cannot be fully seen or apprehended.