Today In Bed With Valentina there’s an amazing painter who win my heart with her exquisite and moving works: Hayley Quentin. Just take a seat in bed – there’s room for everyone – and look at what we talked about.
What struck me when I first saw your work is the fact that all your subjects are male. This is not very common; why do you choose to paint men?
I first started painting men while I was a student at Otis College of Art and Design, however I have always loved the human body, and have many memories being a young person drawing the figure. Without many cultural or artistic examples of women painting men I really felt strange when I was a young person that I wanted to paint men. In a way I had to accept that this was my own poetic view of the world and I had to become comfortable with how much I took pleasure in painting this subject. Studying Fine Arts gave me a clearer vision of what I wanted my art practice to be like, and gave me the technical, painterly and even linguistic tools to accurately convey my ideas. Simply, I like to look at men, see their beauty, recreate the pleasure of looking with the pleasure of painting, perhaps conflate the two, and then multiply this yet again when the viewer takes pleasure in looking at the paintings.
The figures in your paintings have an emotional force that seems to communicate with the viewer. Are your subjects men you already know, or strangers? How do you choose your models?
Generally, my subjects are people I know, some better than others. When you know someone, as opposed to hiring a model, there is a relationship there, however small. My degree of relationship with the person influences how comfortable he is, how comfortable I am, how awkward he will be when I pose him – however, I like the poses being a little awkward. However, as I grow and evolve as an artist over time, I may change my approach.
I use a lot of unconventional color placement in my figures, although really they’re all colors that are found in skin or in bodies. I’m also very influenced by the colors of JMW Turner. His work uses a lot of reds and blues (and very little green) that resonates with me deeply. Much of my color choice is difficult to articulate, because my process of choosing colors works without language; I use color intuitively. There is something that I sense within the body that helps guide my color choices. I choose instinctually, impulsively, as I paint. I use color to bring attention to and sexualize, parts of the body. The way I use color is so intertwined with my subject matter, with choosing to paint men. I use color very strategically, lushly, decadently, to entice my viewer, to have their eyes linger on each piece.
The conception of a body of work can come from many sources: a thought just before falling asleep, a line of text from a book, seeing something in the world that stimulates another point of reference that is already in my mind… There is no one source for me. Once I have an idea I ruminate over it, sometimes jotting a few words in a notebook, until it builds into something more solid. I work from photographs, and this is very important for my process. I take many photos from each modelling session, and then spend a long time ruminating over the photos before beginning a painting. I like this sense of removal from the real person. It fosters a sense of longing that I want to translate into the final pieces.
As for the painting process, it all begins when I stretch my canvases over panel to support the oil ground I use. This is a labor intensive process but very important to achieve the painting surface I want.
Each painting then starts with an underdrawing. I use a blue colored pencil to create the underdrawing for each piece (though the material and color has changed over the years). Next I create an underpainting in ultramarine blue to capture the values of the piece. I begin to use local color after the underpainting has fully dried. Over the years I have moved from traditional glazing to alla prima techniques – sometimes using both together. I enjoy utilizing seemingly opposite painterly approaches. As I’m working I really try to “listen” to each piece, and go where it needs to go. Once a painting is giving me the feeling I want (which is difficult to articulate, it is more of an instinct) I try not to work past that point.
Definitely. When I was a young artist I didn’t see representations of female desire very often, whether in pop culture or art history. I thought I was strange for wanting to paint men. I mentioned before that attending art school allowed me to accept what I wanted to paint. My pieces are an exploration of what it means to be a woman and not be the subject, but to be the creator. And so from an unconventional creator comes a different kind of man depicted.
To make a long list very short: Elizabeth Peyton, JMW Turner, Jenny Saville, Marlene Dumas, Nicole Wittenberg, Daisy Patton, Doron Langberg, Kris Knight, Claire Tabouret, Cecily Brown, Mark Tansey, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Jen Mann, Maja Ruznic, Anthony Cudahy, Kaye Donachie, I mean I really could go on and on.
Working from the concept that painting is an elaborate Myth of depth, I wanted to create a self-contained world of pleasure and artifice. I wanted to depict this illusion through overly saturated colors, through flatness juxtaposed against painstaking realism, and through changes in thickness and application of the paint. Taken on their own, each element or representation in the series could be believable, if only for a moment. It was important to bring together these opposites in a way that is balanced on a knife-edge yet simultaneously enticing and inviting.
Always and unequivocally yes. I was always drawing, as young as I can remember. I loved looking at people and bodies and how faces looked at certain angles; how I could see the veins under skin. I was very lucky to have my creativity fostered and to be able to take art classes, including figure drawing, when I was young.
A title isn’t a summation of the piece, but it can be a window into an aspect, or a reference which will give another layer of meaning to the work Take, for example, my series titled “Love Is A Wild Computer”. This series consists of paintings bathed in pinks, reds, and blushing, touching hands. The combination of words in the title almost makes sense but not quite. The sense of love is immediately quashed by the intrusion of the clunky, cold word, “computer”. The paintings in this series elicit a sense of longing and desire, with the male body as the vessel. It is a combination of things that seem to be strange, but when combined mean more than the sum of their parts.
I’m currently working on a new series of work titled “Intrinsic, Wicked”. This body of work is dark, moody, with deep blues and watery oranges. The words were plucked from Richard O. Prum’s book “The Evolution of Beauty” about sexual selection (as originally explored in Darwin’s “Descent of Man”). I’m very drawn to the aspect of beauty as an important part of evolution, that is simultaneously entirely arbitrary. The pieces in this series are small and gemlike, and their darkness could be described as wicked, though the context of the word “wicked” comes from an archaic, reactionary response to the notion of sexual selection in evolution.