Michael Slenske

Jul 13, 2023 4:53PM

Lauren Quin, The Welling Up, 2023. Courtesy of Blum & Poe.

Do vultures get a bad rap? Plutarch thought so. “Vultures are the most righteous of birds,” he wrote. “They do not attack even the smallest living creature.” It could be argued that artists, by nature, are vultures, too, consuming the carrion of the human experience and spitting it back out to the world for deeper examination.

The Los Angeles–based painter Lauren Quin has been interested in vultures for years. Though her densely layered abstractions are certainly fodder for the culture vultures of the international art world—at 30, she already has several works in the public collections of international museums, including the Hirshhorn, MOCA Los Angeles, and the Walker Art Center—she’s more intrigued by how her paintings might themselves be scavengers. This was especially true while she was making a new body of work for “Salon Real,” her second solo show with Blum & Poe, which opened July 5th at the gallery’s Tokyo outpost.

Lauren Quin, Mock Orange, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

Portrait of Lauren Quin by Jonathan Chacon. Courtesy of Blum & Poe.


“I like these paintings to show every mistake, every decision, and never hide any of the sources,” said Quin, dressed in black jean shorts and black sneakers, in her cavernous new studio complex in Culver City, which visitors enter through a lush tropical garden. These sources can be found in the various art tomes scattered about this skylit warren of connecting rooms, such as Jusepe de Ribera’s baroque 17th-century rendering of the gigantic Greek god Titus lying bound in Hades (a punishment for attempting to rape Leto). Vultures feed on his liver as it regenerates over and over, so he is tortured in perpetuity.

For a few years the image of this 1632 painting, entitled Tityus, had been floating around Quin’s vast archive, which is filled with tropes she returns to: spiders, vibrating cymbals, hands holding winged bats or water, the tails of whales, tiger stripes, and leopard spots. She employs these as larger formal structures or reliefs carved repeatedly (with a spoon or knife) into her wet “tubes” of paint: snaking fans of oil point that create an architecture of lines across the canvas.

This approach was inspired by a Fernand Léger work she came across in the Yale University Art Gallery as an MFA student. “Léger and other artists in that orbit had a way of carrying out a unified mark which held a consistency of weight,” said Quin. “As a student I lifted that mark and started to play games with it.” Léger’s style was often known as Tubism rather than Cubism.

Lauren Quin, installation view of “Salon Real” at Blum & Poe Tokyo, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

Quin then adds the aforementioned carvings and finishes with a series of trace monotype prints, made from the back side of the canvas, that create an oily, ombré, ink skin over her granular, cellular, sometimes oracular surfaces.

“One of the challenges that Quin finds most provocative is how to achieve motion in a static form through the interplay of color,” wrote Fanny Singer in an essay in the artist’s newly released monograph, My Hellmouth, which accompanied her solo museum debut of the same name at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art earlier this year. “I think Quin would embrace the notion of color being an illusion, the quality of prestidigitation that the act of painting implies when nothing is stable.”

Nothing is, or has been, stable in Quin’s paintings since she graduated from the Yale School of Art in 2019 (following a residency at Skowhegan and a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). After a short stint in New York, Quin returned to Los Angeles, where she was born (though she grew up in Atlanta with parents who worked in advertising). Following her return, she said, her father, a “Sunday painter,” served briefly as Quin’s “unpaid intern.”

Lauren Quin, Salon Real, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

Lauren Quin, Horaltic Pose, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

Her solo debut was in 2019, at East Hollywood Fine Art. To demonstrate the evolution of her oeuvre, Quin retrieved a 60-by-48-inch painting entitled Clutch for Lotto (2019), after a Lorenzo Lotto painting. In this landscape-oriented painting, the palette is soft, the gestures open, and the tubes—some brown and yellow, others pink and blue—are used almost as framing devices or wayfinders that lead the viewer into different entry points. “I was learning how to make the paintings in that way so they operated in these zones,” she said.

While this work was modest in size, Quin’s latest efforts are aggressively ambitious in approach and scale. Networks of tubes plot the connective tissues that link form, color, and gesture. Patterns are everywhere, from moiré to animal skin. In one work that was still in progress, The Future of Milk, inverted tiger stripes appear like sperm racing toward an egg-like cymbal, with white sprays of ink suggesting a sexual release. “One of my dealers came in and she was like, ‘Are you pregnant?’” said Quin with a laugh. “But I was just picking up on the negative space of the stripes.”

In another work in progress depicting what appeared to be a bioluminescent aquatic scene, with its sea of deep cerulean pigment, Quin is playing with what she calls a “blue heat.” Here, the shade works as a “swallowing color,” she said.

Lauren Quin, installation view of “Salon Real” at Blum & Poe Tokyo, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

“I’ve always had a kind of romantic relationship with colors—like vermillion or Indian yellow—that I feel can hold the painting,” said Quin. “I’m trying to keep this painting as dark as I can.”

For the new show, the works have been scaled down in order to accommodate the tighter space of the Tokyo gallery. In response, Quin made her first suite of vertically oriented paintings in six years, and her first diptych, The Welling Up (2023). The painting, which is filled with flame-like voids and magenta, “taught me about making a gesture flow between an indeterminate space because the two can split or remain together,” said Quin. “I also feel like the printing has become very gestural.” This is especially true in the painting Solar Hole (2023), which evokes the sensation of being blinded by the sun with black-and-white tubes overlapping a kaleidoscopic entropy.

Quin has also been experimenting with wider tube marks, as seen in a painting called Kettling (2023)(a reference to how vultures flock together). A similar glitchy ink expression is apparent in one of her largest paintings, a 15-foot-long piece entitled Froth of Modesty (2021), which is grounded in the image of a spider in the palm of a hand.

Lauren Quin, Solar Hole, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

Lauren Quin, Kettling, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

“There’s a way in which a word or language can have a radius of meanings and I’m really interested in that concept in terms of image,” said Quin. “What happens is I’ll have a painting sitting around and it becomes what I’m thinking about for the next painting, it’s the inspiration for it. So there’s a lot of repeating these symbols until they dissolve.”

While Quin’s trajectory and approach are often compared to those of Joan Mitchell and Elizabeth Murray, both of whom she views as personal painting icons, she hopes to follow a more disruptive path in her own career: She cites the German abstract painters Albert Oehlen and Charline von Heyl as models in this regard.

Lauren Quin, installation view of “Salon Real” at Blum & Poe Tokyo, 2023. © Lauren Quin. Courtesy of the artist, Blum & Poe, and Micki Meng.

“There are paintings that I look at and I’m like, ‘I wish I made that painting.’ And then there are painters where I just want their attitude. I want to be able to think like them,” said Quin. “I just love the mindset that Charline has with repetition, with movement. Just always making a left turn, you know? Or, like with Albert Oehlen, there’s always something destructive. I really admire that.”

Quin, after all, is still charting her course in the pantheon of abstract painters. “I’m still finding ways to evolve the work inside of the medium,” she said.

Michael Slenske

Correction: a previous version of this article misstated the type of bats that Quin uses as inspiration. They are winged bats, not baseball bats.