Valienska Magfira, Marc Quinn

DNA Portraits

DNA by Marc Quinn

When the National Portrait Gallery commissioned British contemporary artist Marc Quinn to create a portrait of Sir John Sulston, a Nobel Laureate for sequencing the human genome, Quinn gave them a framed agar jelly plate. Except it’s not just any agar jelly, it’s a preservation of Sir John Sulston’s DNA and the bacteria colonies around it. It’s definitely one of the more abstract portraits in the gallery but it’s also the most representable. From this, Marc Quinn continued to produce a collection of works using DNA samples.


DNA portrait of Sir John Sulston by Marc Quinn - DNA portrait of Sir John Sulston, Nobel Laureate for his work on the sequencing of the human genome by Marc Quinn commissioned by the National Portrait Gallery in 2001.  Marc Quinn

What inspired Quinn to work with DNA is the fact that 99.9% of the human is shared among one another and most of it with other living species. It was during September 2001 when Quinn saw the relevance of DNA as a medium and as a way to signify our similarities rather than differences. We can see this symbolic message in his works such as Family Portrait and the DNA Garden.


Family Portrait by Marc Quinn, 2001 - This is a DNA portrait of Marc Quinn 's family. It consists of the cloned DNA of his own, his wife, his step-daughter, and his son.

Met: Marc Quinn

Family Portrait is a DNA portrait of his own, his wife, his step-daughter, and his son. It gives us an ancestral portrait as we are given the genetic evidence of lineage and blood relations in the Quinn family. But even though some genes in the family are not shared, it comes to show that biology does not destine family ties, but rather love and acceptance.


DNA Garden by Marc Quinn, 2001 - DNA Garden by Marc Quinn represents the Garden of Eden as it consists the DNA of 75 species of plants and 2 of a man and a woman.  Marc Quinn

The DNA Garden is a collection of 77 DNA plates, 75 of which are of different plant species and 2 of which are human; one belonging to a man and one to a woman. If there was a genetic portrait of the Garden of Eden, it would be close to this since 99.9% of our DNA is shared among each other. Throughout history there are many paintings of the Garden of Eden. However Quinn’s contemporary approach to it can be rather impactful to the modern audience as we are confronted with the science behind it.

More on Marc Quinn's body of work on DNA can be found in his website.