Given Marc Quinn’s training at Cambridge, where he read history of art, and his continued interest in the art of the past, it is not surprising that his work frequently refers to the three traditional genres in art – landscape, still life and portraiture. For well over 20 years the artist has charted his physical ageing process through an ongoing series of sculptures. Since 1991 he has made a portrait of himself cast in his own frozen blood once in every five years. The latest incarnation of Self, made in 2006, forms the basis for the present print of the same title. His first portfolio of prints, Emotional Detoxification, published by Paragon in 1995, was also inspired by earlier sculptures dealing with a similar theme – disembodied parts of the artist’s own body. Quinn has referred to Self as the ‘artery that runs through’ his work, a preoccupation with his own body is one of its abiding themes. His decision to make a sequence of sculptures rather than just a one-off self-portrait was inspired by Rembrandt. Few artists made more portraits of themselves, and Rembrandt has left us a generous record of a penetrating dialogue with his own self throughout his life. But whereas Rembrandt elicits an emotional response from the viewer through his outward gaze, Quinn’s eyes are closed. He affords us no such apparent access to his inner self. His physical self, however, is present in the very substance of Self through his blood, the bodily fluid that keeps him alive. But, strangely enough, as a result of the closed eyes Self is also reminiscent of death masks, made to preserve the features of the deceased.
For the print, Quinn chose a photograph of the sculpture in full frontal view, which he sent to Adam Lowe at Factum Arte in Madrid. It was decided to print the image slightly smaller than life-size on an aluminium board. Prior to printing, the boards were coated with a half-chalk ground, a gesso used by painters since the Renaissance. The coating was necessary so that the aluminium panel could absorb multiple layers of pigment ink. Printing multiple layers of the same image onto the same surface, in perfect registration, was made possible by the ingenuity of Lowe, who had completely reconfigured a standard Epson 9600 inkjet printer. Keeping only its firmware and printing heads, Factum Arte's engineer Dwight Perry constructed a new printer, where the printable surface was fixed and the print heads are moved over the printable surface on highly precise linear guides. To achieve the best possible colour saturation, four layers of the same image were printed onto the panels, all in perfect registration. Rafa Rachewsky at Factum Arte then printed the edition under Lowe’s supervision. Aside from the edition of 59, three unique hand-coloured variants were released at the same time, in which, instead of the neutral grey background for the main edition , Quinn overpainted the area surrounding the head with blue, red and pink acrylic.