‘But I Woke Jus’ Tha Same’ is a solo exhibition featuring Christina Quarles’ new paintings and drawings in which she explores how bodies interact in social environments. At first glance, her command of a rich artistic language—gestural and controlled, textured and flat, biomorphic and angular—makes her work immediately intriguing. The combination of recognisable flowers, figures, and trees with more abstract motifs, like colour planes, disfigured limbs, and vague facial features, sets up her work to be approachable, yet it also allows room for interpretation.
The main subjects of her paintings are elongated, semi-abstract figures. In almost every painting, we see several incomplete figures intertwined, and it is not easy to detect which limbs belong to which body. There is a sense of fluidity to her figures— Quarles presents them as flexible, in motion, and sometimes cutting across the different abstract planes she paints. For instance, in ‘Laid Down Beside Yew’ (2019), while the lying figure is partially sandwiched between a green plane on the bottom and a reddish plaid one on top, her breasts, thighs, and feet emerge from beneath a red plane. This exemplifies how Quarles’ figures are not always squarely confined by the planes, but sometimes pass through them.
As a queer woman of mixed race, Quarles has been conscious of the different racial and gender categories that operate in society. She finds that these categories can support people who are alike and at the same time, work to exclude others. Thinking about her personal experience, we can consider the planes in her work to symbolise the boundaries of these different socio-cultural groupings. In ‘Push ‘Em Little Daisies’ (2019), torsos, legs, and arms rest on a table-like green plane, from which thick paint drools down, suggesting that the structures of identity can alter, dissolve, and form new entities as society evolves.
Quarles’ black and white drawings also depict bodies in abstract spaces, although text plays a much bigger role here as messages are inserted. In ‘Surely/Truly’ (2019), a young woman sticks her legs up and holds her cell phone to her ear. Right beside her leg is the string of words “Surely, Truly BUT, FER NOW, MAYBE, SURE”. They are reminiscent of the vague, cryptic, yet telling lines we sometimes write on social media to express ourselves. These messages fulfil the desire of the writer and preserve space for other people to speculate.
Many years from now, the various categories of identity in our lives, will likely be a little different. Nevertheless, Quarles’s imaginative and metaphorical world leaves enough room for history to unfold, and for future generations to relate to her work based upon their own lived experience.