Thursday, 16 July 2015

La vie d'artiste: "Marc Quinn: Making Waves"

The art profile Marc Quinn: Making Waves could almost be an extended episode of the BBC4 series What Do Artists Do All Day? For day, we must substitute year: filmmaker Gerry Fox tailed Quinn - the sculptor and painter best known for casting his own head from a pint of his own blood, and for putting the pregnant body of artist and amputee Alison Lapper on a Trafalgar Square pedestal - from early 2013 to early 2014, for a project that generated a considerable itinerary. We join Quinn ahead of an opening in New York, where his vast bronze casts of molluscs and seashells attract the attentions of Henry Moore's daughter and a naked performance artist; from there, he unveils a piece at the Chelsea Flower Show, mingling with the Queen and Nigel Havers; there are new shows in Venice and Istanbul (where Quinn premiered his history paintings based on the 2011 London riots); a trip to Asia, where Quinn lunches with Ai Weiwei; and a whirlwind layover in Miami to attend a party being thrown in his honour, where - in an unlikely echo of this summer's Glastonbury festival - Quinn finds himself smiling nervily through surreal encounters with Lionel Richie (gladhanding, friendly) and the Kardashian Wests (visibly cooling when it becomes apparent this camera isn't specifically there for them). One implicit revelation: the extent of a superstar artist's carbon footprint. (It would take a lot of bronze to cast that.)

The insistently dressed-down Quinn proves affable company throughout, unfazed yet unflattered by Fox's camera, capable of communicating his ideas to curators and builders' merchants (who do the heavy lifting) alike, able to discuss both the manufacture and implications of his work with eloquence when pressed. You could argue Fox, more tagalong then interrogator, isn't quite pressing enough; that, if he wanted his film to be received as more than just a pal's video diary, he needed to sound out a few exterior voices - perhaps one of the journos we see Quinn being interviewed by at various points. An episode that finds the artist flogging his own-brand watches at Dover Street Market surely provides an opening for the film to examine the intersection of art and commerce; as presented here, however, it's just one of several fun nights out for those who can afford them. That said, the glimpses Fox offers of the Quinn process - hanging out at a furnace making giant pop rocks, turning first a Bonsai tree, then a tattooed and scarified model, into officially sanctioned Works of Art - are fascinating, and the work itself, whether those blood casts or the embryos carved into pink marble, retain an eerie beauty that makes them worthy of this kind of up-close, intimate study. The great strength of Fox's film is that, without in any way lessening their power to disrupt or disturb, it makes Quinn's creations appear newly tangible.

Marc Quinn: Making Waves plays in selected cinemas (followed by a Q&A) from Monday night.     

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