Simon Bartle, Visual Arts Correspondent

Christina Quarles At The Hepworth Wakefield

The Christina Quarles Exhibition runs alongside the companion Alan Davie and David Hockney Exhibition, which explores the convergences of the creative driving forces, which underlie the work of Davie and Hockney. That is a superb exhibition in its own right, and well worth seeing.

The theme of convergence, unwittingly, or perhaps deliberately, continues through from that exhibition into the separate, but accompanying exhibition of Christina Quarles.

In 1958, when the Wakefield Gallery showcased Davie's work, it was his first retrospective exhibition, and proved to be a pivotal turning point in his career. It also motivated a young David Hockney to take a journey into abstraction.

Well what's all that to do with Christina Quarles? This is Christina's her first exhibition in the UK. It occurs at a point when Christina's career is most definitely following an upward trajectory, just like that of Davie's in 1958.

Landing this Christina Quarles Exhibition, is a coup for The Hepworth, whose curatorial ability is well known, and appreciated worldwide. But they have now also demonstrated that they have the ability to identify, and secure exhibitions, for 'up and coming world class artists'. The idea to showcase the Christina Quarles Exhibition, alongside that of Davie and Hockney, is truly inspired, and the Hepworth should be proud of what they have achieved.

For those who see the Christina Quarles Exhibition, they will argue that she has already graduated from that 'up and coming' category, and that she has already arrived on the world stage. You simply cannot argue with that assertion.

Who then is Christina Quarles? Born in Chicago 1985, Christina was raised in Los Angeles, where she now lives and works. Christina was awarded an MFA in Painting from the Yale School of Art in 2016. She has secured many awards and grants along the way, the most recent of which were the Robert Schoelkopf Fellowship at Yale University (2015), and the Rema Hort Mann Emerging Artist Grant (2017).

Ever since the Hepworth secured the current exhibition, it has all happened for Christina. In the short time since leaving Yale School of Art, she has been catapulted into the limelight. Not only is Christina's work in numerous public and private exhibitions, she has had too many solo exhibitions to list. Her reputation was truly secured beyond doubt, when she was caught in the headlights at the Phillips, New York 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Auction Sale on 15 November 2018. There her painting Pull on Thru Tha Night was one of the 41 works that went under the hammer, alongside works by Joan Miro, Robert Motherwell, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, and many of the other names who resonate through the annals of art history. Oh yes, and just 3 years out of art school, Christina's work sold that evening for US$ 225,000 some 7 times the estimate. Her work that night was also up for auction alongside that of a certain David Hockney - did we mention him? Just another confluence.

Since then Christina's works have regularly sold at the most prestigious auctions on the world stage. She is now a stellar artist on the international art scene. Christina has arrived, and is here to stay, but at interview she firmly eschewed the notion that she is an 'art rock star'. No that is not Christina, she remains humble, firmly rooted to the ground, and she most certainly does not take her success for granted.

But what about Christina's work? Well in addition to her painting using acrylics on canvas, Christina also draws in ink on paper. Those works are simply not to be missed, and there are eight in the Hepworth Exhibition. They take that medium to a whole new level. Christina stretches the possibilities of ink on paper to their utmost limits.

So what about Christina's work? Semi abstract, entwined limbs, fluid, gestural and more, in fact everything you would expect from arguably one of the current 'hottest talents'. In short, the paintings are sublime. There are not enough superlatives to adequately describe Christina's talent. You need to see the works for yourself, and ensure that you get in at the ground floor, of the career of this exciting, and innovative artist.

When interviewed, Christina expressed her view, that when her work is exhibited in beautiful galleries outside the city centre, and alongside industrial spaces it "makes her feel at home". Christina said she fell in love with the Hepworth when she visited it last year, and she believes that "it has incredible architecture, and is an exciting and beautiful museum". Well we also have a confluence there too, who would not agree with that sentiment.

Christina says that her creative process is not planned, she does not start with sketches. She says she "begins, struggles, experiences the moments when the work is not going well, but eventually all her efforts collide with the ultimate conclusion".

Where from here? Christina's next exhibition, which will run concurrently with this one, is “Christina Quarles: Every Silver Lining Has Its Cloud,” at the Pond Society, Shanghai, China, 5 November 2019 – 15 January 2020. Then for good measure, she opens in her birth town of Chicago, with “Christina Quarles,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, IL, 4 April – 30 August 2020.

Shanghai and Chicago, yes but remember the Hepworth got Christina first. We get to see her work before the 22 million inhabitants of Shanghai, or the 2.7M people in Chicago. So the Hepworth, and the City of Wakefield, with its 325,000 citizens, steals a well deserved march on the rest of the world.

The Hepworth has pulled a master-stroke. Whatever you do, don't miss out, get down there and witness the latest confluence of events for yourself - history has repeated itself 1958, and 2019.

You will be able to say you were there when Christina Quarles came to town. We have adopted her, she's now one of our own.

The Hepworth Wakefield's exhibition programme is supported by Hiscox, The Contemporary Circle and Pilar Corrias.

The Hepworth Wakefield, Gallery Walk, Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF1 5AW
Open daily, 10am – 5pm. Free entry