Angie Quick’s exhibition “make me less evil,” at Museum London, is the artist’s third solo show in little over a year: before this, at the McIntosh Gallery and the Michael Gibson Gallery. Quick has been working non-stop in London for much longer than that. This recent momentum is more than just her time having come; it’s a case of talent insisting upon itself in the utmost visceral terms. Working in both large and intimate scales, Quick’s sheer carnality of paint transports us beyond good and evil to explore how morality fails us at the threshold of desire itself.
Quick’s bodies are prone, vulnerable, seductive, assertive, predatory. Their amorphous, transmogrified form recalls the corporeal terror of Francis Bacon, as in all the wood is in my shed (the ass of love) or the night you wore your jogging suit to bed, or the voluptuous allure of Rubens, as in human history is four coordinates. But even then, Quick reveals the perversity of the Rubenesque, as in I won’t be happy until you’re dead, the threshold between two embracing figures also a site of fatal rupture. It’s hard to tell the difference, which is the point. One of two large diptychs, the cannoli eaters, depicts a sea of flora and fauna (rabbits, to be precise). This overwhelmingly fecund nature both supports and threatens to devour a reclining nude, apparently gorging herself, splayed across the top of the canvases and across the divide between them. Here, desire is fulsome, too much, truncated and never enough all at once.
Quick’s brushwork evokes a breathless urgency that is lavish and radiant, impulsive and frantic, but never misses its mark. For Quick, painting bears an emotional, psychological and sexual weight that stages how we are at once embodied and disembodied by what we do—and what society tells us to do—with our desire. The result can be more than implicitly political, however much Quick might deny this effect. The other diptych, saved, saved, saved, depicts only animal forms receding upward toward a miasma of paint (think Turner’s Shade and Darkness), appearing devoured by representation itself. The scale is at once epic and parodic, the occasional face marking the human’s gnat-like insignificance, as if to skewer the moral indictment of a fundamentalism that so often attends end-of-days narratives. More than anything, paint exists for Quick to distinguish truth from lies only in a non-moral sense.
The entrance to the exhibition is flanked by two works that express the salacious ambivalence of Quick’s approach. To the left, a portrait of Quick asleep on a couch in her studio bears the show’s title. The artist’s frank posture claims a nonchalant authority, a sheerly ego-less confidence that is powerfully involuted. The message is: “I could care less,” “enter at your own risk” and “I’m not here to tell you what to think.” Even more likely is “I dare you to be the voyeur you know you want to be.” Exploring this frank intimacy on an epic scale is a 12-foot unframed canvas to the right, the internet was made for sex and cats. Quick’s exuberant attack, by never referencing technology, except in the title (her titles are exercises in perversity themselves), reminds us instead of the sheer vitality that the technology of paint continues to exert. Both paintings say “the studio is sacrosanct space for any kind of dreaming.”
The larger works are offset by a series of smaller works, the purpose of which I found, at first, difficult to place. Are they studies for the larger works? Then I chanced upon the sick one (I miss my body), which seems to reference Tracey Emin, Géricault and Marcel Dzama, confronting the fragility of life that is, perhaps, the exhibition’s centrepiece, without meaning to be. Even these vignettes of the body’s viscous qualities stage how the aesthetic at once contains and confines desire, literally and figuratively. They’re primal scenes of a larger drama that we play out every day on monumental terms but equally in discrete, recessive ways. Above all, Quick reminds us that how we express the waywardness of desire is the unavoidable point of our human condition. Like a mouth eating its own representation or the body devouring its own image, these are works on whose fluid, trans surfaces bodies emerge and depart between the human and non-human—where we both find and lose ourselves as subjects. At once excessively, materially present and spectrally disengaged, these are bodies as succubi, materialized and dematerialized by the paint itself— the canvas as a crucible of flesh.
This is anything but tragic or entropic. Or if it is entropic, the wasting still reminds us we’re alive. Which is to say that ultimately these are paintings about consent. What will we permit ourselves to sustain about the location of bodies beyond good and evil in a world that insists— demands—that we make moral distinctions about their use? In a world that wants to legislate bodily practice and exploration, both Right and Left, Quick reminds us that our bodies, as materially obstinate and nite expressions of what it means to be human, are more than mere adjuncts of a world in constant flux. Again, she might be making a political statement (post-Roe v. Wade, for instance). But that might be to limit her vision entirely. Instead, her work reminds us how painting, limited by two dimensions, stages flesh as the entrance to depths of desire that at once disturb and exhilarate. For me, that will always trump politics. ❚
“Angie Quick: make me less evil” was exhibited at Museum London, Ontario, from February 19, 2023, to May 28, 2023.
Joel Robert Faflak is a Robert and Ruth Lumsden Professor in the Department of English and Writing Studies at the University of Western Ontario. He is also visiting professor at Victoria College, University of Toronto.