For his recent solo show in New York, Marc Quinn presented seven circular canvases (most measuring 781⁄2 inches in diameter, all 2009) that depict greatly enlarged images of human eyeballs. Well known for his figurative sculptures of Kate Moss and other, less famous individuals, Quinn has essentially created another series of portraits, as each oil painting is based on a close-up photograph of a particular sitter’s eye (initials are incorporated into all the titles). Using an airbrush to replicate the photographs on canvas, Quinn avoids hard edges and illustrates how our eyes are composed of permeable membranes. Centralized pupils are captured in various states of dilation, and their darkness tends to bleed into outer bands of vibrant chroma. While each iris generally corresponds to a common eye color, Quinn’s extreme magnification reveals layers of multihued tendrils that spread to the canvas edges like flames. Indeed, a smattering of small, haloed, brown occlusions on some of the paintings read like burn marks. Although a basic composition of nested circles is necessarily repeated, the variations in the ocular details suggest eyes absorbing light and actively returning the spectator’s gaze.
In formal terms, Quinn’s circular canvases bring numerous precedents to mind, including the tondos of Kenneth Noland and the spin paintings of Damien Hirst. More relevant, perhaps, is the work of Odilon Redon, the French symbolist who frequently depicted cyclopean monsters and disembodied eyes in order to privilege the imagination over optical vision. Similarly, Quinn’s gigantic eyeballs can veer into abstraction and easily conjure otherworldly phenomena. Most notable in this regard is Iris (We Share Our Chemistry with the Stars) SO 200L, which presents an inky blue iris dominated by a large, black interior. The wobbly contour of this dilated pupil is limned with passages of dusky gold that erupt into incandescent streaks to approximate an astral occurrence.
This micro/macro relationship was underscored in a smaller room of the gallery, where one encountered another eyeball painting featuring an amber-colored iris that becomes milky green along its outer edge. A large rectangular canvas titled Bayon Sunbow was hung on the opposite wall. Also copied from a photograph, it depicts a cloud-filled sky where a centralized sun is ringed by a thin, continuous rainbow. The radial designs in both these paintings called and responded to each other; light seemed to bounce from its celestial source across the room to its optical filter and back to the spectacular skyscape. Standing between the paintings while grasping this dialogue, one felt oddly enmeshed in the process of perception.
Photo: Marc Quinn: Iris (We Share Our Chemistry with the Stars) AJ 200L (Dilated), 2009, oil on canvas, 781⁄2 inches in diameter; at Mary Boone.