Marc Quinn: Held by Desire


Even at the very early stages of his now-20-plus-year career, Marc Quinn had already proved himself as a tour de force in both the British contemporary art world and in international circles. Best known for his self-portrait head sculptures (moulded from his own blood) and a giant gold statue of Kate Moss, his latest exhibition opens at White Cube this month. It includes an ink-black sculpture of an orchid head, a photograph depicting Lara Stone laying on meat (a la Manet’s Olympia), pieces from his ongoing Eye of History series and several new sculptures. Ysabelle Cheung speaks to Quinn about desire and fear…

The title of the show, Held by Desire, invites everyone into this very present notion of being trapped or suspended by this strong emotion.

Well it’s almost like desire is the gravity, and gravity holds physical objects onto the world. Desire, in all its forms, from reproduction to wanting things to food to all these primal appetites, is actually what makes the world go ’round.

The exhibition discusses the idea of the randomness of art, and whether it comes from humans or nature. Has this always been a recurrent theme in all of your creative processes?
Yeah, I guess from the beginning, even when I made the Bread sculptures – the heads of Marie Antoinette and Louis XVI. The bread was kneaded, put inside the armature in a rough pastry-like way, and put it in the oven to cook. However it came out, that was the sculpture. Then I moulded it and turned it into bronze. Once it had been cast, it seemed like a very expressionist thing with a lot of feeling and meaning in it, but in fact it was a very random thing that had been shaped by gravity, yeast and heat. So it’s kind of that interest in how nothing is there and everything is a projection.

One piece from the exhibition in particular, The Architecture of Life, seems to reference the past, present and future as well as the history of humans’ relationship with art.
Looking at a shell – looking at this vast, complex, beautiful, symmetrical but also rather crazy shape that’s been made from this tiny brainless creature without a spinal column – made me realise that if a human had made it, it would have been a beautiful sculpture. But because an animal made it, it’s for functional reasons. And yet it has the beauty of any of the great art in the world. The archaeology of art, as you said, is what interests me about shells. They include time on the spiral, which is formed over many years, like the rings of a tree. And then you have the front of the shell, which is made of bronze with this piece. This mirrored area is always in the present moment, because it reflects what’s happening now, and then the spiral turns into the past… it’s like if a scientist had made a model to explain how the past and the present co-relate, in a three-dimensional way, he would have made a shell.

There’s also The Invention of Carving, which references a meat-shaped stone currently on display at Taipei’s National Palace Museum.
Yes, that reference was the beginning of this piece. But I was also interested in this Stone Age exhibition at the British Museum, where they found that the oldest sculpture we have in the world is a lion carved out of an animal bone. I thought, well, actually one of the earliest forms of carving is from the cutting of meat off of the carcass. And the carving of the meat is actually a kind of really pure form of sculpture; the will to create something to eat is survive is mixed with the will to make something beautiful.

Your pieces rely on both technical perfection and organic growth. Are you ever afraid that something won’t turn out the way you expect it to?
You always have some element of risk and fear making something. If I wasn’t afraid, making art would be boring because, truth is, I’m always going to make things for myself, the things that I need to see and understand the world. If other people like them, that’s a plus, but essentially you have to work to please yourself. I never have any expectations because it’s completely beyond my control. I just make what I make.

You’ve created a giant baby suspended in mid-air and a cryogenically frozen flower garden. What has been your most ambitious piece of work to date, technically and conceptually?
I think I tend to look forward and not backward, so my answer would be: the next one.

Held by Desire White Cube, until Jan 4 2014,

Quinn's Best

The original marble sculpture of disabled pregnant artist Alison Lapper was displayed at Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in London from 2005 to 2007. An inflatable version was commissioned for the 2012 London Paralympics and was also displayed earlier this year at the Venice Biennale.
“What I love about it is that it’s not a big object of bronze or marble; it’s a living thing and shows the scars of life. It has this air being blown into it; it has seams on it, kind of like this vulnerable colossus.”


Quinn has created five frozen self-portrait sculptures, created entirely from pints of his own blood and frozen; the very first was acquired by Charles Saatchi in 1991. He begins a new portrait every five years.
“My self-series is like Samuel Beckett, not Shakespeare. It’s not a narrative, it’s a repetition. The process is the same; my face is different.”

This 2008 sculpture of Kate Moss, a manifestation of the public’s collective desire, is said to be the largest gold sculpture created since the time of the Pharaohs. The piece used 10 kilograms of 18-karat gold.
“I’m interested in the straight-forward, fundamental question of how people relate to each other, how they drive my life and how they drive everyone else’s life.”


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