I was asked to photograph the artist Marc Quinn in 2005, an artist who is sometimes considered controversial but to my mind is really innovative. I drove to his pristine Shoreditch studio. Shoreditch in those days still a very rough area of London before it became a mecca of coolness. His studio was in Ravey St and he had a workshop under some railway arches locally which I also visited.
Like Leonardo Da Vinci’s obsession with anatomy, Marc Quinn has the same deep interest in the nature of the human body, its surfaces, it’s interior membranes and the lifeblood. The blood, bones and veins of art. His sculpture Innoscience of his infant son was made of wax, polymers and the special milk that his son who was severely allergic to dairy had to be weaned on.
Marc was very quiet and contemplative and I could see that he was very serious about his work. When I asked him loads of questions, which I am prone to do he simply showed me more artwork. When I questioned him about the above girl, he said he cast her body, made the mould and then filled it with resin.
When I was at art school I was used to a more traditional approach to sculpture and I wondered if this work was a little too literal in its translation of the human form. There was no chisel to marble process. I realised that despite my misgivings his work is a beautiful and convincing creative statement that reflects on the classical Greek sculpture in the mode of Praxiteles. Marc’s genius is his painstaking attention to detail, using scale and materials to produce radical and stunning forms. He draws on classical art in a very imaginative way, his blood head self portrait for example reminded me of the death masks of old which were also cast directly from the body.
Marc showed me some drawings that he had done of some abstract figure (see photo below) and I asked him if he’d made that piece yet. He said yes and then unwrapped this very small, yet in scale solid silver sculpture. Without any prompting from me he put it on his head and then in his mouth, after which we all smiled and laughed. This was the lightest moment in what was quite a scholarly photo session.
For me Marc Quinn’s work really stands out in comparison to the other Young British Artists in the Charles Saatchi’s sponsored exhibition Sensation (1997) as something appropriate to the 20th Century, particularly his work Self (1991). This idea has now evolved from just his personal blood into a concept fit for the 21st Century. His new piece Odyssey which is made of the blood of 5000 donors half of whom are refugees, will be displayed on the steps of The New York Public Library in 2019. His earlier head sculpture was very meditative and went against the grain of much of the Sensation exhibition, which was head line grabbing for the sake of head lines. This new piece really is a comment on Nationalism and the lack of equality in society and really appeals to my sense of fairness and the cohesiveness of humanity. While borders are being built against the supposed threat of refugees all over the world a British artist is using the blood that flows in all our veins to convey our human equanimity. It’s a bold and profound statement and one that in these troubling times speaks volumes.