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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Christina Quarles at the Manetti Shrem: A glimpse through the lens of an artist

A deep dive into one of many incredible resources of the UC Davis Arts Department


By ANA BACH — arts@theaggie.org


On Nov. 17, I had the opportunity to check out one installation of the recurring Visiting Artist Lecture Series at the Manetti Shrem Museum. 

The lecture was given by Christina Quarles, an artist based out of Chicago who now works in Los Angeles. Her work consists of abstract paintings that center around queerness, sexual identity and gender. She has hosted an exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and graduated from the Yale School of Art with a Master’s in Fine Arts. 

Quarles began the lecture by going in depth about the medium she finds herself the most comfortable using: acrylic paint on canvas. Her creative process begins with looking for inspiration from informal elements such as cartoons and media. After she has an idea of what she wants to create, she proceeds with painting creative amorphous structures that have no particular format, structure or approach related to the end concept. 

“Make work through the problem,” Quarles said as she described her artistic process.

She stressed that oftentimes people suggest working around “problems,” treating them as obstacles that inhibit us from achieving our goals. Quarles rebukes this, treating the “problems” she has with her paintings as a catalyst for change that otherwise might have gone unnoticed. 

Once she has a general idea of what shape the painting will take, she uses other applications, such as Adobe Illustrator, to plan out the spacing for the rest of the work and to add complementary details. 

Another method Quarles has adapted into her repertoire is gesture painting. This technique is practiced when an artist uses extensive gestures, sometimes even contorting their body to reach certain spots so that the overall movement of the limb is emphasized in the work. She said that she typically works on larger canvases to accommodate this practice. 

Quarles closed the lecture by sharing the topics that surround her work and how they relate to a broad audience. One of the biggest themes she plays on is intimacy, specifically as a mode of self-expression. This can be seen through her use of figures that blend with one another, some of which reflect entanglement with another person, while others offer a platform to contemplate our relationships with ourselves. 

I thoroughly enjoyed seeing how Quarles interacted with the audience, creating a comfortable environment throughout the lecture. The lecture’s casual nature encouraged audience members to look deeper into how the themes presented in her art aid exploration within our own lives. 

These lectures take place regularly at the Manetti Shrem and are available for free to any member of the student body. I would highly suggest checking one of them out, whether you are already interested in the arts program or you just want to broaden your creative horizons.


Written by: Ana Bach — arts@theaggie.org