Review “SCENES” by Nathaniel Mary Quinn
To quote American film critic Mary Haskell: “There are two cinemas: the films we have actually seen and the memories we have of them. How the audience connects with what they watch is a very personal experience. We build our memories from snippets that ignite our soul in unique ways. For some, it’s the compelling cinematography or perhaps a captivating storyline, but for American artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn, it’s the complexity of the characters that resonates deeply and serves as the backdrop for his latest exhibition. SCENES at Almine Rech in Grosvenor Hill.
Introducing the most memorable characters from film and television. But it’s not as simple or straightforward as portrayals of favorite movie characters; in fact, what Quinn does are not portraits at all in the traditional sense. To begin with, the artist is not interested in presenting a direct visual likeness or telling a story with the synopsis, rather he assembles a narrative, like a poet drawing on memories and reflections on what he sees. and feel. The characters emerge as extensions of the artist himself and the experiences he carries through his own complex life. Blending traditional materials like gouache, charcoal, oil paint, oil pastel and oil stick, Quinn draws on vulnerability, empathy, truth and emotion to construct figures of a somewhat surreal collage-like appearance.
The show grips you as soon as it opens with Sunshine, a large linen canvas split by a yellow-on-green horizon and dominated by the figure of a seated woman. Dressed in bold prints, she leans forward in her chair, her arms resting on her knees, as if gazing intently, as one does when listening or gazing deeply at something. Not knowing who the subject is, one feels the energy of someone strong, resolute, creative and enigmatic. She looks you in the eye and for a moment you wonder how you know her. Upon learning that the work is actually that of the artist’s wife, herself involved in film and television, it becomes a significant reflection on a driving force behind Quinn.
The artist also finds meaning in his memories of fictional characters. In Bubba Gump a man is shown seated on a bus stop bench, holding a box of chocolates and wearing a tan suit, with a blue checkered button-up shirt and a pair of well-worn Nike Cortez shoes. It’s almost impossible not to smile warmly in recognition of the eponymous Forrest Gump and it’s in that smile that you recognize the power of Quinn’s work. Although there is nothing to be found of Tom Hank’s true face in the play, the innocent strength and purity of intent that guide Gump through life’s ups and downs, and come to define him, find their way out of the canvas. Through her creative process, Quinn captures the energy of the individual and offers insight into the nuances and layers of lived experience that define each of us.
As with all of Quinn’s work, the creative process Bubba Gump is also a process of finding an understanding of the deep emotional resonance that attracts the artist. He paints these figures as we recognize them, but from within himself rather than from external cues. From a vision of the final destination, decisions about what material to use and where to use it are intuitive; they are both separate and one with the artist. It is a vessel connecting the multiplicities and bringing us closer to a shared humanity.
This process echoes that of Francis Bacon whose gigantic display at the Royal Academy earlier this year left a lasting impression on Quinn. Obvious references to Bacon are found in the warm curved skylines and neutral backgrounds of many works, including that of Country. With CountryQuinn dives headfirst into the Bacon-esque grotesqueness of Amazon Prime’s superhero antagonist The boys. By probing the character as it exists in the eye of the artist, he unconsciously finds the pulsation which makes it live in all its strata. The work is an acknowledgment of the ugliness that life can contain, that each of us can contain within ourselves, of the power and subtlety that it gives to the human condition.
In gallery text for showthe artist says the works reflect “my enduring love for movies” and while it’s clearly evident that Quinn is a movie buff, you could say that SCENES instead exhibits an enduring love for humanity; for the passionate, imperfect and complex people he understands. It is the deployment of these characters, their superposition of energies and emotions that allow a moment of discovery for the artist, an opportunity to see themselves and perhaps reveal something about the viewer. It is a privilege to encounter the truths of these individuals, to experience the weight and magnetism of each character as Quinn processes and communicates them in her own subtle poetry.
Nathanael Mary Quinn SCENES is open until 12 November 2022 at Almine Rech London.
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