The Toxic Sublime by Marc Quinn

On the 15th of July the London-based White Cube opened an exhibition of fascinating new work by Marc Quinn. The show named ‘The Toxic Sublime’ includes two new bodies of work and is the culmination of two years of investigation by the artist into natural phenomena and our distanced and complex relationship with the environment. These works after which the show was named are distorted, three-dimensional seascapes that blur the boundaries between painting and sculpture. Next to these works, a new series of highly extraordinary sculptures – minimal arcs in stainless steel – including one measuring over a staggering 7 meter long titled ‘Frozen Waves’ are on display. These super impressive, primal and gestural shapes originate from the remnants of shells, eroded by the endless action of the waves. In the moment before they disappear and become sand, all conch shells end up in a similar form – an arch that looks like a wave, as though an unwitting self-portrait by nature. 

‘The Toxic Sublime’ works begin with an inherently contradictory artistic gesture whereby Quinn submits a photograph on canvas of a sunrise to a process of aggressive alteration. The photograph is first sanded and taped, then spray-painted through various templates comprising flotsam and jetsam gathered from the beach. Once this process is complete, the artist takes the canvas out onto London streets and introduces the impressions of drain covers into the surface of the work. This intrusion is suggestive of how water, which is free and boundless in the ocean, is tamed, controlled and directed by the manmade network of conduits running beneath the surface of the city.

The degraded seascapes are finally bonded to a sheet of aluminium, to be pummelled and contorted by Quinn to create sculptural hybrid objects that not only exhibit the formal elements of classical landscape painting but also are suggestive of something wrecked, as if a pictorial remnant discarded from some kind of physical disaster. Moreover, while all the works originate from the same image of an orange-tinted sunrise, they each emerge inherently unique, the result of a distinct physical and material manipulation.

With ‘Frozen Waves’ Quinn reference the science of fluid dynamics, Quinn captures this ancient action of time and tide using the most recent three-dimensional technology. Copied and extracted on different scales, and then cast in stainless steel or concrete, the result appears like a sculpture of a wave yet also something primordial and ambiguous, mined from the depths of time; a reminder that the forces that shape nature are more powerful – and will last longer – than us, however much we interfere with the planet. Elegant and minimal, they point to a magical material transformation: the crystallisation of movement into form.

We love the inspirational work of Marc Quinn!

The exhibition will run until the 13th of September at White Cube in London, located at 144-152 Bermondsey St in London.

For more information see here.