‘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 colour, 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’ (M.G. Nichols, ‘Marc Quinn’, in Art in America, 5 February 2010).
Reaching nearly three metres in height, Marc Quinn’s We Share Our Chemistry With the Stars (AJ280R), 2009, dazzles the viewer through its chromatic intensity. A mesmerising kaleidoscopic vision of teals and chestnuts with an inky black void at its centre, Quinn produces an exquisitely hyper-realist painting of a close-up photograph of the human eye. Conceiving his work as a unique form of portraiture, Quinn renders the incredible intricacies of the eye with sophisticated painterly precision, magnifying his subject to almost planet-like appearance. The work pulls the viewer towards the central void which dominates the piece, surrounded by the colourful iris that ripples with blues and greys like an expansive ocean. For Quinn, the infinite blackness of the pupil evokes art history’s preoccupation with the void, from Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square to the slashed canvases of Lucio Fontana. However, in contrast to Fontana’s ‘spatialist’ practice, dedicated to invoking the mystical dimension that the vast void of Space presents to Man, Quinn’s dramatically enlarged eye prompts us to question the unknown in ourselves. Unfathomable yet deeply familiar, the work inspires profound meditation on human identity, the transient nature of being and the existential unity of mankind. The title We Share Our Chemistry With the Stars represents not only a literal truth – in that we are made from the same elements as the planets, stars and meteorites – but also a cultural, democratic axiom. In this age of celebrity, it functions as a reminder that all humans have equivalent potential and that, ultimately, we are biologically equal to the stars.