From a blood-filled head to a figure in a deep freeze, Marc Quinn has assembled quite a body of work - mostly his own. Tom Lubbock sees his new show
Sometimes I think to myself: come on, just admit it, you are yourself, at heart, a Young British Artist - that's your sensibility, your fancy; you like to dwell on turds and foetuses and dismembered corpses and general perving, you enjoy philosophical conceits and art in-jokes; and, if fate had dealt differently, if you were really true to yourself, that's the kind of art you'd make too. I confess, it is so. This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine: yes, just my thing. But...

But it's more complicated than that. Because the kind of art that you might, at a pinch, make yourself isn't necessarily the kind of art you love when you see it. It may well be exactly the kind of art you don't love at all. And this can spring not only from the humble thought, "I could do that, therefore it's no good," or the envious thought, "The bastard's got there first," or even the expansive thought, "I can get this at home, I want something more different from me."

For you can also recognise, quite honestly, that your own inner artist is not actually a very admirable one; that the creative imagination you've been lumbered with doesn't do you much credit. And so, when you find this imagination displayed in someone else's work... well, you always have a particularly sharp eye for your own foibles in other people. You know them better, you see them clearer, you come down harder. Indeed, remarking them so starkly in others can be the very thing that brings on the sorry self-awareness.

I start like this because, if there's one YBA I feel that mutatis mutandis I could very well be, it's Marc Quinn. He's best known for his Self, his own head cast in nine pints of his frozen blood; and with his work generally - human body-stuff that's queasy, cheeky, brainy in a rather abstract way, a bit old-fashioned even - I understand just where it's coming from. It's pretty near what my own inner artist's work would be like, and seeing it has helped me to know that. And if self-knowledge, however irksome, is a good in itself, then I should be grateful. Besides, any sense of affinity can't but generate some sympathy and fondness too. So it was with something like an eager personal interest that I went to Quinn's new show.

Dull and magniloquent, vivid but stupid, superb, superb, really got something, less so, quite amusing, boring, crap, crap, bafflingly pointless crap: that would be a short list of summary judgements on the dozen pieces here. Body-morphing is the main action. Moulds of a body (Quinn's own) in various media (rubber, lead, glass, ice) are involved in transformations and catastrophes, to create sculptures that are both startling physical specimens and metaphors for mind or identity in flux and peril. And with this mix of gross-out plus powerful-cum-corny existential themes, my sense of affinity is strong; though Quinn's cheekiness can become unsympathetically crude.

The two melty rubber pieces, for instance, are just too melodramatic, take them as scare-monsters or psyche-symbols. In Stripped, an upright naked body is submerged in its own dribbling meltdown, like a wine-bar candle. In Raspberry Nervous Breakdown, a head stuck on a pole dissolves in long red and white drooling strands that puddle on to the floor, as if it had been pulled up out of a fondue. This isn't far enough from the sci-fi horror effects it invokes. This was the "vivid but stupid" part.

But Spherical Morphology ("really got something"), though it takes a hint from Terminator, is cooler and more inventive. Blobs of back-silvered glass that look like giant mercury drops are grouped in splash-formation on the floor. A central wiggly tadpole-like one bears the artist's face, just emerging; smaller surrounding drops extrude into a hand or a penis; others are just plain, shiny little globules. The body separates and divides into liquid metal, perhaps about to re-form and rise again - unnerving, funny, pathetic, and a proper sculpture too.

Three pieces called Study for Approaching Planck Density are superb - small round mounds of folded metal that are in fact lead casts of Quinn's skin, compacted like suddenly dropped trousers, or as if imploded and flattened under enormous pressure. You can make out a collapsed head or foot or hand in the general squash: a parcelled bog-man, the body reduced to a tablet of itself, but with a nod too to Michelangelo's image of a flayed skin with his own face in The Last Judgement.

A question, though: why always his own body, when the work isn't in any real way about Quinn himself? My own inner artist would never encourage the use of my own body - I'd have done the morphing on a famous statue or something. Granted that sounds pretty crass, but the fact that Quinn is a bit of a fatso does give a nudge of comedy to the whole project - unlike that other self-caster, Antony Gormley, the general solemnity of whose oeuvre is certainly convenienced by his being a fine figure of a man. As for the much-publicised Across the Universe - his whole body cast in ice, in a sealed chamber, mysteriously evaporating - it's only an enlargement and a dilution of one aspect of the frozen blood head.

So too the only non-body work, Eternal Spring, where vases of sun-flowers are preserved, life-in-death, in vitrines of frozen silicon. Once again, the blood head did this riff already, more richly, and the Van Gogh reference is daftly boring. Here I want to disassociate myself completely.

Still, overall, the identification survives and thrives: it's near enough my own imagination on show. And, I suppose, this is one of the ways creativity often operates, not taking you into another world, but bodying out things you might almost have thought of too, things you know inside out - letting you feel, with wishful regret or with thankful relief: there, but for the grace of art, go I.

To 8 March, South London Gallery, 65 Peckham Rd, London SE5 (0171-703 6120)

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