Rembrandt van Ryn used oil paint to produce his self-portraits. Marc Quinn uses pints of his own blood.
Every five years, the British artist makes a mold of his face, which he gradually fills with 10 pints of blood drawn from his veins. The finished sculptures are kept at freezing temperatures to stop them from liquefying.
“Self” (2006), the fourth and most recent, has just been acquired by the National Portrait Gallery in London -- with cash from the Art Fund charity and other donors -- for 300,000 pounds ($500,000). It’s on display at the gallery, in a Perspex box filled with silica and chilled to minus 18 degrees Celsius.
“This piece is a celebration of the powers of the human body,” Quinn said in an interview, his camouflage cap removed to reveal the bald head reproduced in the display case. “It can regenerate the same amount of blood that’s in the whole body four times, and I’m still alive, and these sculptures are still there.”
Comparisons with Damien Hirst, whose work tackles mortality, spring to mind.
“I think I’m more obsessed with life than death,” Quinn said. “Death’s inevitable, and slightly boring.”
The first ”blood head,” made in 1991, was bought by Charles Saatchi and displayed in the “Sensation” exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1997. It is now owned by Steven Cohen, who runs the $14 billion hedge-fund management firm SAC Capital Advisors LP; Quinn said that Cohen paid “in the millions of pounds” for it.
Quinn is known to Londoners for “Alison Lapper Pregnant” (2005), the marble sculpture of a woman born without arms that temporarily occupied the vacant Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square. The same year, Quinn made “Sphinx,” painted-bronze sculptures of Kate Moss in yoga positions.
Public reaction to the Lapper sculpture, Quinn said, led him to want to “explore the opposite: the body that everyone thinks is absolutely perfect.” He chose Moss as his subject, then realized that he was showing, not the model, but “an abstraction that we’ve created in imagery.”
“Kate Moss the person and her image have two different lives,” he explained.
In April 2010, he opens a sculpture show at the London gallery White Cube of “people who’ve transformed themselves with plastic surgery.” How badly? “I wouldn’t say badly: extremely,” he said with a smile.
Nor does he like his work labeled “disturbing,” though he agrees that it can make the viewer uncomfortable.
“I think you have to make work that makes you feel things,” he said, “and people don’t like feeling things.”