The Man Who Put Kate Moss on a Pedestal ; She Is Part of Our Mythology, Says Marc Quinn, Which Is Why He's Made a 10ft Statue of the Supermodel
Maddocks, Fiona, The Evening Standard (London, England)
THE LATEST incarnation of Kate Moss, 3.3 metres high, virginal white, limbs contorted in bestial beauty like a Shiva deity, is already part of our consciousness. That famous half-smile, dreamy and glazed, stares out through curtains of hair. Her androgynous body teeters precipitously on her coccyx, legs splayed and flaunting all for anyone who cares to see..
"Wherever we look, Kate Moss's image has become part of our mythology," observes the soft-spoken artist Marc Quinn, who sculpted the supermodel as
Myth (Sphinx), now itself part of that image-making process. "In whatever form, in newspapers, magazines, on the internet, she's our kind of collective hallucination of perfection, someone we see everywhere and know almost nothing about." The work, cast in bronze and coated in white car paint "partly to withstand the elements, partly as an ironic tribute to that other great object of desire" is the highlight of Beyond Limits, Sotheby's second selling show of monumental sculpture which opened at Chatsworth this week and runs until 4 November. Other artists in the show, juxtaposing contemporary and classical, art and nature, include Rodin, Barbara Hepworth, Anish Kapoor and Damien Hirst.
The Derbyshire seat of the Devonshires, set in the rolling Peak District National Park, has long been a home both to culture and to It girl celebrity, from Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire to "Debo" Mitford, now the Dowager Duchess. The current Duke and Duchess are themselves industrious collectors.
Sotheby's has given Kate Moss/Sphinx mesmerising pride of place at the end of the canal pond, creating a vista with the 17th- century house as a backdrop.
The work already has a number of interested buyers willing to pay the asking price of 500,000. During the course of a conversation with Quinn, the phone doesn't stop. The offers seem to rise with each call.
"I don't care about the money," he says. "Except in as much as it pays for me to do other stuff that won't sell instantly." The complexity and range of Quinn's work, and the huge expense of the materials he uses, is notable from laboratory-tested DNA samples to Italian marble from the quarry used by Michelangelo. Many of the processes require hiring the skills of craftsmen to transform sketches and maquettes to massive sculptural life. Yes, he moves in a glamorous art-world set. Yes, his clients have included Miuccia Prada.
But he works with dogged and ascetic application.
Quinn, 43, was one of the original Young British Artists. He, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin grew up together professionally.
He is even rumoured to have shared a flat with Hirst but ever private, especially when it comes to commenting on other artists, he says he "can't remember".
He first attracted interest in 1991 with Self, in which he cast his own head in refrigerated blood. Charles Saatchi, an early patron, bought it for 12,000 and sold it for 1.5 million (stories about it melting in Nigella's fridge are apocryphal).
Later he did a series of works about people whose limbs had been amputated. But Quinn only came to wider fame, or notoriety, when he won the Fourth Plinth competition with Alison Lapper Pregnant, the great marble statue of a woman with no arms and truncated legs, which currently towers over us in Trafalgar Square.
Moss startles us in a different way. As commentators have been quick to point out, her splayed pose gives us a perfect view of what Courbet called "the origin of the world" (though in his 1866 painting the model is salaciously naked, Moss obligingly wears a leotard). What does Quinn say to those who can't get beyond thinking it rude? He is phlegmatic. "People see what's in their minds. Every projection anyone puts on art is valid. If they think parts of the human body are rude, that's fine, but it's really their business." HE FOUND inspiration for the Moss in Chola Indian sculpture of gods and goddesses.
As usual in his work he began with sketches before sending the work to be cast. "I've been thinking about mythic creatures in past cultures and the idea of archetypes.
After doing Alison Lapper, which was about embodiment, I wanted to do the opposite, with Moss a sort of floating disembodiment." A contortionist modelled the position but the limbs are casts of Moss's own body. "The yoga pose was about our obsession with image, symptomatic of all of us. We try to anchor ourselves in our body, to link our outer and inner lives, by running on treadmills and all the rest. It's about the spiritual vacuum in society." That said, he has always found Moss "a big personality, very easy-going and down to earth. She was very willing, nice and surprisingly unaffected". Her public frailty, manifest in clashes with the police over drugs, works like a silent counterpoint to her Venus-like appearance.
Ten years ago, before Lucian Freud and a handful of other artists used Moss in their work, Quinn made an ice sculpture of her which slowly evaporated (no explanation needed).
The original, smaller version of Myth (Sphinx) is part of series showing Moss in seven different extreme poses. A lacquered bronze called Road to Enlightenment has Moss's head on the body of an emaciated Gandharan Buddha, rib-cage skeletal, veins and sinews horribly exposed. Size Zero looks chubby in comparison.
With Quinn there's always a disarming gravitas, mixed with gentle, playful humour. Born in London in 1964, the son of a physicist, he is a natural intellectual, educated at Cambridge and absorbed in the literature and art of ancient cultures. He also has an impressive knowledge of science, which gives his work a boldness, and an edgy relevance.
"I'm interested in history and ancient civilisations. But I want the here and now to be in my work." He recently made a series of portraits using DNA, including that of Sir John Sulston (now in the National Portrait Gallery) who won the Nobel Prize for his work on the Human Genome.
"They look remote from art historical portraits yet they're the closest you can get to a real image of someone." That kind of dichotomy, a mix of abstract and figurative, grotesque and exquisite, is central to his outlook.
Quinn's professional climb has not stopped since he was taken up by Saatchi and included in the Royal Academy's Sensation show a decade ago. He was the first artist to be represented by the now major contemporary art world player Jay Jopling at White Cube.
Major collectors all over the world seek out Quinn's work, including Steve Cohen in New York, who also bought Hirst's shark. Quinn recently moved from a spacious, minimal studio in Hackney to a still more spacious, two-floor studio on the edge of Clerkenwell. His fertile imagination, including more images of Moss, is evident in all directions.
A current obsession is orchids. Half a dozen vivid, gesso portraits of Moss, each with a single, life-sized cast of this most erotic of flowers on her forehead, are propped against the wall. Nine large pencil and wash drawings of a developing embryo, soon to be cast as sculptures, are in progress. Pieces of popcorn, looking disturbingly similar to the embryos, are used in a work entitled Explosion: Big Bang Pop.
In complete contrast, large canvases of luscious, gorgeously detailed exotic flowers threaten to overwhelm the senses.
"I bought all these flowers on the same day in Covent Garden. What intrigued me is that they were in bloom in completely wrong times of year and wrong places. Human desire is warping the course of nature. I'm fascinated by hybridism and genetic modification and yes, global warming and what we are doing to our planet.
"I was thinking the other day, it's now 15 years since my generation of artists came to the fore. When we started we were all a bit inward and, perhaps, self-indulgent.
Now we're all doing work which has to do with the real world." Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted skull? Quinn won't be drawn on specifics.
"Attitudes and preoccupations have shifted. Artists are just like anyone else.
We all think about the same things. But the difference is we externalise our thoughts and feelings by turning them into objects, literal or metaphorical." Quinn is married, with two sons, to the children's author Georgia Byng. A lifesized sculpture of her bare- breasted and pregnant greets you near the studio's front door. "The top half is from one pregnancy, the lower half from the other. I like the idea of combining all my family in that way." My gaze falls on a haunting, tiny head, its bloodied demeanour like a miniature of "Self". "It is the head of my baby son, modelled in clay and cast in his placenta, liquidised and frozen." It chimes with the holistic vision he brings to all his work. He describes the process chattily, as if sharing a recipe for a smoothie. "Art isn't a comfy chair, whatever Matisse said." ANEW sculpture, Another Kiss, depicts the familiar naked torso of Alison Lapper embracing Peter Hull, born without legs and with shortened arms. It will be exhibited at the Frieze Art Fair in Regent's Park next month. No doubt some will rail in disgust.
"But maybe not. After all the fury to begin with over Alison Lapper Pregnant, I've heard nothing negative," Quinn observes thoughtfully. "Many people even seem to wish it could remain in Trafalgar Square. I've loved it being in such a fantastic public place, too. In fact I'd like them to cancel the [Fourth Plinth] competition and let it stay for ever." Time is running out for a final glimpse of Lapper. On 3 October the work will be removed and replaced by Thomas Schtte's spiky Hotel for the Birds, made of red, yellow and blue Perspex. Quinn's statue will then tour the world, stopping for three months in New York. He will only sell it when a public site in London has been found.
"This is where it belongs. I want the piece to stay in view, perhaps at one of the gateways to the city. My ideal would be the new Eurostar station at King's Cross, so people see it as they arrive." But Kate Moss, he says, can go anywhere. "She's an archetype, a Venus, part of everyone's consciousness." He breaks off to answer another phone call, and returns, smiling ruefully. "It seems Kate Moss may well be off to a private owner somewhere in Asia."
Beyond Limits: Sotheby's At Chatsworth runs until 4 November.
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Publication information: Article title: The Man Who Put Kate Moss on a Pedestal ; She Is Part of Our Mythology, Says Marc Quinn, Which Is Why He's Made a 10ft Statue of the Supermodel. Contributors: Maddocks, Fiona - Author. Newspaper title: The Evening Standard (London, England). Publication date: September 14, 2007. Page number: Not available. © Not available. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.