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Frye Art Museum's Christina Quarles exhibit provides alternate perspectives on identity

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Christina Quarles @ Frye

Courtesy of the Frye Art Museum

Through her depictions of objects and figures, Los Angeles-based artist Christina Quarles creates a dialogue challenging traditional views of identity through an incorporation of her lived experiences and interactions with others. The Frye Art Museum is hosting work by Quarles until June 5; this is the largest current presentation of her work and includes a range of pieces, primarily featuring bodies. 

Quarles' queer and mixed race identities significantly impact her work. Being mixed race causes a feeling of displacement that she expresses in her pieces. Quarles focuses on utilizing the multiple aspects of her background to present her voice through her marginalized identity. 

Across the exhibit, recurring themes and symbols emerge, such as flowers and experimentation with space. 

"I don’t know that Christina uses flowers to symbolize any one thing specifically, but she does often use them as pattern/motif to suggest an outdoor environment like a field; conversely, she often pictures them as simplified forms in a vase to suggest a domestic interior," Amanda Donnan, chief curator at the Frye, wrote in an email. "Christina uses them as decorative elements and to convey different feelings, which may amplify or contrast with what is expressed by the figures." 

Quarles' paintings depict figures in relation to objects; she paints them with gestural motion in contrast with the precision of everyday objects and landscapes. Quarles creates a sense of ambiguity in her work through her use of abstraction and representation to showcase her identity on an emotional and physical level.

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The exhibit presents a wide range of references to Quarles' experiences, specifically her relationships with others. This can be seen through her use of color, contrast between light and dark, and background and foreground. 

"There isn’t a specific logic to the order in which the paintings appear, though there is generally a trajectory from simpler compositions focused on one or two figures toward more complex arrangements," Donnan said. "It isn’t strictly chronological but by and large mirrors the arc of Christina’s practice." 

In the back of the exhibit reside Quarles' black-and-white drawings that incorporate lines as opposed to brushstrokes. These stand-alone works, similar to her paintings, depict figures and continue the theme of ambiguity. However, Quarles' drawings emphasize lines and words, frequently incorporating song lyrics and clear depictions of bodies.

The Frye Art Museum is free to enter and is open Wednesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Reach contributing writer Zoë Nichols at Twitter: @zoenickels 

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