Life’s A Beach: Marc Quinn’s New Exhibition Explores Toxic Environmental Issues

Marc Quinn

A new exhibition of work by Marc Quinn is always an event in London. It’s not just that he’s on the short-list of successful artists from the YBA period who have made their mark in the glory days of Brit Art – but also the fact that for much of his career he has produced quality work. Some of which is memorable some of which is less so.  This latest exhibition, is Quinn’s first White Cube show, in London, since 2010. It includes paintings and sculpture and both are well displayed in the caverness snow-blinding gallery in Bermondesy. The theme of the show titled; ‘The Toxic Sublime.’ is an exploration of ‘natural phenomena and our distanced and complex relationship with the environment’. So what does this mean? The massive scale canvasses on the walls are emersive and abstract, however on closer inspection they reveal tagging/graffiti and hidden messages reminding us that we are at odds with nature. 

‘The Toxic Sublime’ works consist of reflective, silvery canvases with pastel hues, mounted on aluminium frames. These panoramic seascapes, on first impression are more sculptural than just wall pieces. The visual forms start off life as photographic imagery of sunsets and evolve utilising aggressive manipulation, which alters much of the subjective image. The artist explains that ,”The sunset image is sanded and taped, then spray-painted through various templates comprising flotsam and jetsam gathered from the beach”. The message is clear once the process is complete. The artist then takes the canvas out onto London streets and introduces rubbings of drain covers into the paintings as part of the image’s content. This portrays a narrative of how water travels from an urban environment to the sea.

The ‘degraded’ seascapes also  touch on the scientific evidence of how we actually see a sunset. The National Geographic states; “When a beam of sunlight strikes a molecule in the atmosphere, “scattering” occurs, sending some of the light’s wavelengths off in different directions. This happens millions of times before that beam gets to your eyeball. At sunset. The two main molecules in air, oxygen and nitrogen, are very small compared to the wavelengths of the incoming sunlight—about a thousand times smaller. At sunset, the light takes a much longer path through the atmosphere to your eye than it did at noon, when the sun was right overhead. That is enough to make a big difference leaving a disproportionate amount of oranges and reds as that beam of light hits”.

A new series of sculptures also accompany the works on canvas. ‘Frozen Waves’ are a series of sculptures ranging in size from medium to monumental with one piece a staggering 7m long. These realistic polished and rough stainless steel forms look like prehistoric fossils. The castings are broken and hollow and give the impression that they have been eroded by waves. The conch shells are also highly reflective and take on elements from the muted colours of the paintings in the rooms. This is a show to view in an empty gallery to absorb the true visual effect of the combination of paintings and sculpture. It works well as an installation but from the commercial perspective, I dread to think of what the sculptures will look like in isolation and out of context. Putting them into a garden or hotel lobby may well undermine the true conceptual strength of this powerful exhibition.

Words/Photos PC Robinson © artlyst 2015

Watch Installation Vine Video Here


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