Christina Quarles, Sweet Chariot, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 72 × 96".

Christina Quarles, Sweet Chariot, 2020, acrylic on canvas, 72 × 96".

Christina Quarles

What is pandemic life but a reminder that we’re all bodies stuck in time and space? In Christina Quarles’s solo show “I Won’t Fear Tumbling or Falling/If We’ll be Joined in Another World,” the artist attempted to capture the warped conditions of our new reality—the claustrophobia and disembodiment, the longing to touch—in nine new paintings, all created between March and September of this past year.

Quarles’s strange, fleshy forms are both recognizably human and not. Their elongated, bone-thin extremities recall Giacometti: attenuated bodies at the edge of existence. Yet here they seem to have drifted, dreamlike, into a plane of frenzied sensuality, feeling their way toward some kind of intimacy. In Pried/Prayed (Hard Rain Gon’ Come), some figures emerge from a rectangular pool of spectral colors. The face of one seems to melt as it grasps another naked female body, dissolving into another hybrid of limbs. As with most of Quarles’s works, it is impossible to tell where one body ends and another begins. Individuality dissipates; figures are enmeshed and vulnerable in a process of becoming and erasure. The serene blue background has been feverishly scratched away. A hot-pink leg balletically frames the scene at a ninety-degree angle.

I’ll Take Tha Nite Shift is a Dalíesque netherworld of uncanny unease. Spindly fingers and feet at alarming angles are summoned in washes of Day-Glo color. A beaky-nosed head is held aloft like a mask, gazing in turn into a golden orb. Faces are wiped away. Bursts of sharp patterns—a yellow-checkerboard motif like a stage curtain, the thick red-and-black crisscross of a woman’s hair—are juxtaposed against watery brushstrokes. At the bottom of the canvas, a frail, ghostlike figure dissolves, as if trying to hold the jarring elements together.

Quarles manipulates paint with the energy of a sculptor. Her acrylic is gouged and impastoed, built up into peaks and then stenciled away. Monumental in scale, the canvases raise haptic possibilities. In their accretion and blur of sensations, they mimic the texture of our fractured present: the deluge of information from the flat, unremitting screens to which our lives have lately shrunk. In Sweet Chariot, a crush of Technicolor bodies throws into relief the lonely-looking figure hunched in the corner. Barely an outline, he’s the wallflower at the orgy, thick green paint dug out in spirals behind him like silly string.

Four paintings displayed in a downstairs space, amid low lighting and dark-blue walls, offered yet more evolving forms. In Lay Yer Burden Down, a pair of ethereal hands, set against a carpet of pasted-on flowers, either strangle or caress the dark torsos pinned beneath them. In Lil’ Dapple Do Ya, another floral design, with Matisse-y splotches, is layered over itself to evoke woozy double vision, offset by smears of bubble-gum-pink paint, bared buttocks, and tentacular black limbs. A splayed orange leg in They’ll Cut Us Down Again slips away like smoke. A mass of tubular, humanlike parts overlaps geometric grids of color, suggesting some polymorphous carnage in the glare of a yellow sun.

On the back wall, Tomorrow Comes Today (Come What May/Cum, Whatever, Maybe) was an anxious scene of ecstasy and embrace. Two ambiguously gendered bodies meet, lips almost touching, divided by what appears to be a giant smartphone screen. Like the pixelated visuals of a bad internet connection, the forms jitter into life, tie-dyed colors streaking onto black diamonds. Perspective is unsettled. A naked figure catches her own reflection in a mirrorlike sliver on the ground. The image is another echo of the way 2020 has made intimate strangers of us all, alone together.