Nathaniel Mary Quinn is a Brooklyn-based contemporary visual artist. Quinn's distinct Dada-esque portraits are collage-like hybrids comprising fragmented images drawn from mass media and personal memory. Through them, the artist delves into his past and present, and broader themes of identity.Read More
Born in Chicago, Quinn grew up on the South Side, where he developed an early passion for drawing. He legally adopted the middle name Mary in homage to his mother, who passed away in his teens while he was attending the Culver Military Academy boarding school in Indiana on a scholarship. Doing so ensured her name was written on his degree when he graduated.
The loss of Quinn's mother was compounded by the vanishing of his father and brothers shortly after that. Both events have been driving factors in his life and work. Determined not to become destitute in his abandonment, Quinn continued pursuing his education. He completed a BA in art and psychology at Wabash College, Indiana, in 2000 and an MFA in 2002 at New York University.
In 2002 Quinn moved to Brooklyn where he continued to paint while teaching through the exalt youth programme. Nathaniel Mary Quinn's Charles (2013), created the breakthrough that has led to the artist's most seminal artworks. Improvising under the pressure of an imminent deadline, Quinn began to paint fragments from five resonant photographs; stepping back, he instantly recognised the smirk of his long-lost brother, Charles.
Charles caught the eye of the executive director of Brooklyn's Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, who later arranged for five of Quinn's works, made in a similar style, to be exhibited in the museum's window. Since then the artist has continued to develop a practice based on sourcing fragments—from mass media, the internet, magazines, and personal albums—that subconsciously call to him. He extracts these fragments from their context, reducing them to their aesthetic value.
Although they may seem like collages, Nathaniel Mary Quinn's images are hand-made with materials like oil paint, gouache, charcoal, pastel, and gold leaf. Typically Quinn's process involves having some vision of the final image in mind, then sourcing reference image fragments online or in old personal photos. From that, with meticulous detail, Quinn paints and draws those fragments together on canvas, covering up complete areas with paper as he works.
These fragments are brought together to give substance to visions from the artist's past—visions of the family he lost at a young age and visions of people who helped him along the way. Nathaniel Mary Quinn's The Comedian (2017), for example, depicts a black Chicago comedian he knew whose brazen honesty impacted his life.
Quinn also depicts people from the present whom he has met and connected with, such as the young man in Preciate It, Unk! (2018). This figure is based on a neighbourhood acquaintance that the artist became a trusted uncle figure to. The artist explained in Gagosian Quarterly that through these works he tries to 'find ways to articulate visually that which is often unseen.' The fragments intimate various experiences that come together to create a person and their identity.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn's art continues to garner wide attention, featuring in gallery and institutional shows across the United States and overseas. His work can be found in major institutional collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and Museo Jumex, Mexico City.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Gagosian, Davies Street, London (2020); Always Felt, Rarely seen, Almine Rech, Brussels (2019); This Is Life, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin (2018); St. Marks, Luce Gallery, Turin (2016); Past/Present, Pace Gallery, London (2014); The MoCADA Windows, Museum of Contemporary and African Diasporan Arts, New York (2013); Urban Portraits, Rush Arts Galleries, New York (2006).
Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2020); Dirty Protest, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2019); Echoes: Identity and Politics in Contemporary Collage, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago (2018); Hope and Hazard: A Comedy of Eros, Hall Art Foundation, Vermont (2017); Fragmentations of the Self: Smeared, Smudged, Marked, Drawn, Rush Arts Galleries, New York (2006).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021
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Nathaniel Mary Quinn's life has been as disjointed as one of his paintings. He was raised in a housing project on Chicago's South Side, the youngest of five boys. When he was in the eighth grade, an assistant principal recognized his talent and helped get him into an elite boarding school in Indiana. While Quinn was there, his mother died...
"I paint forms as I think them, not as I see them," Picasso said. Nathaniel Mary Quinn, the forty-one-year-old New York artist, paints people as he feels them, not as they look.
It's hard to forget the portraits of Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Looking into the fragmented, kaleidoscopic faces, the features seem startlingly familiar—an old friend, a neighbor, or perhaps someone you saw crossing the street.