Marc Quinn (‘Self’) by Marc Quinn

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    Marc Quinn ('Self'),    by Marc Quinn,    2006,    NPG 6863,    © Marc Quinn. Photo: Marc Quinn studio. Courtesy: Marc Quinn studio
A self-portrait by the artist Marc Quinn, made from his own frozen blood.
Marc Quinn ('Self')
by Marc Quinn
blood (artist's), liquid silicone, stainless steel, glass, perspex and refrigeration equipment, 2006
80 3/4 in. x 25 5/8 in. 25 5/8 in. (2050 mm x 650 mm x 650mm)
NPG 6863
© Marc Quinn. Photo: Marc Quinn studio. Courtesy: Marc Quinn studio
On display in Room 32 on Floor 1 at the National Portrait Gallery

Marc Quinn (born 1964) is a contemporary artist who uses a wide range of materials and techniques. Some are more traditional, such as hyper-realistic oil painting and Casting The process of pouring hot liquid metal, or other materials, into a mould to create an object. sculptures in bronze. He has also used more unusual materials such as silicon, blood and even human DNA The chemical in the cells of animals and plants that carries genetic information, passed down from its parents. .

This self-portrait sculpture is called Self. It is made from Quinn’s own frozen blood.

Analysing the portrait

  • View larger image
    Marc Quinn ('Self'),    by Marc Quinn,    2006,    NPG 6863,    © Marc Quinn. Photo: Marc Quinn studio. Courtesy: Marc Quinn studio
Marc Quinn ('Self'), by Marc Quinn, 2006

Look carefully at the portrait. Take your time – look at it for at least a minute. What can you see?

    • Our first impression might be that the portrait looks peaceful or calm. Marc Quinn’s facial expression and closed eyes make it look as if he is meditating or asleep.
    • It also seems intimate. Marc Quinn presents only his head and face so we focus on his features and can look at them closely. We can see details such as his eyelashes, the lines on his skin, his pores, and the stubble on his chin.
    • When we discover that the sculpture is made of frozen blood our response perhaps changes. It may seem disturbing.
    • Quinn did an extraordinary amount of preparation and put himself through a lengthy ordeal to create Self.  
    • The portrait was made by creating a cast of his head and neck. He did this by covering his head with an all-over mask of plaster of Paris (leaving breathing holes for his nose). The result was a perfect impression of his facial features.
    • He then filled the cast with blood from his own body. He took blood in the same way that blood is taken during a blood donation. He had to do this over five separate sessions until he had enough blood to create the self-portrait.
    • The blood was then frozen. When it was solid, the blood head was mounted within a Perspex A strong, clear plastic material. box filled with freezing Silicone oil A liquid material that remains clear and stable at low temperatures. . The work is carefully maintained in a refrigeration unit to stop it from melting.
    • Marc Quinn often makes art focussing on themes of nature, identity and beauty. All these themes are reflected in this self-portrait.
    • The portrait comments on human fragility and mortality. He makes a new version of Self every five years, documenting his own physical changes. Each one is a perfect impression of his face and head. The first version of Self was made in 1991. This version was made 15 years later in 2006.
    • In documenting himself and the process of ageing, Quinn was inspired by the artist Rembrandt A Dutch artist active in the 1600s, known for his use of rich colour, light and shadow, and his interest in personality and character. , who created a series of self-portraits showing how he changed from youth to old age. Quinn often connects his work to art history.
    • He was also inspired by the life mask of William Blake An English painter, poet and printmaker born in 1757 who was an important figure in the 1800s. , which is also in the National Portrait Gallery Collection. He was intrigued because it is ‘a portrait of a living person on a specific day’.
    • The artist describes Self as a ‘frozen moment on life support’. This could reflect wider issues of life and healthcare in the modern world and our dependence on science and technology.
Much of my work is about bringing things into art that never had a place there and creating space for them.
Marc Quinn, 2022

Why is this portrait significant?

  • This self-portrait is cast with ten pints (5.7 litres) of Quinn’s frozen blood. This is the same as the average amount of blood in a human body. The work is carefully maintained in a refrigeration unit to stop it from melting.
  • The portrait has been interpreted in different ways. It has been seen as challenging, provocative and even distressing. For others it is a reminder of how fragile our existence is.
  • Casting The process of pouring hot liquid metal, or other materials, into a mould to create an object. is a traditional process, which is often undertaken using valuable materials such as gold or bronze. The use of blood as a material reminds us of value in an entirely different way.
  • The use of blood to make this sculpture has been described as ‘increasing its status as a true self-portrait’, as the work not only shows the artist but also includes part of his body.

Who is Marc Quinn?

  • Marc Quinn was one of a group of artists who became known as the YBAs (Young British Artists) A contemporary art movement characterised by an openness towards the materials and processes that could be used to make art, and the form it could take. – the YBAs (Young British Artists) A contemporary art movement characterised by an openness towards the materials and processes that could be used to make art, and the form it could take. . From the early 1990s they marked a new era in British contemporary art.
  • Quinn is known for using a wide range of materials and techniques, and for works which often provoke different reactions.
  • In 2000, Quinn was Commission A formal request made to an artist to create an artwork. to create a portrait of the biologist Sir John Sulston, to mark his work on the Human Genome Project A project which was started in 1988 to describe the complete set of genes in humans. It has been described as one of the greatest scientific achievements in history. . Quinn used Sulston’s actual DNA The chemical in the cells of animals and plants that carries genetic information, passed down from its parents. in honour of his scientific work. The portrait is in the National Portrait Gallery Collection.
  • In 2005, Quinn was chosen to create a sculpture for The Fourth Plinth A plinth in Trafalgar Square, London, that had remained empty for 150 years. Since 1998, notable contemporary artists have been commissioned to create artworks for the plinth. in Trafalgar Square. Quinn created Alison Lapper Pregnant. The sculpture’s presence in Trafalgar Square was described as ‘hugely empowering’ in the progress of disabled rights in the UK.
  • Following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations of 2020, Quinn partnered with activist Jen Reid to create a sculpture of Reid with her fist raised in a Black Power pose. It temporarily replaced a statue of Edward Colston, a trader in enslaved Africans. Like many of his works, it has been the subject of much debate.

Questions

  1. What are your reactions to this portrait sculpture?
  1. How does it make you feel? Do you have any questions about it?
  1. This sculpture has been described as having ‘increased status as a true self-portrait?’ Why do you think that might be?
  1. Do you agree with this description? Why, why not?