feature: artist nathaniel mary quinn : “king kong ain’t got nothin’ on me”

February 21, 2014

It has been a big season for Nathaniel Mary Quinn, a Brooklyn-based artist on the rise. With artwork featured in two high profile group exhibitions in Chelsea this past December, and a solo show currently on view in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Quinn is making great strides as an artist and gaining the attention of galleries and collectors alike.
I included three of Quinn’s paintings in my recent exhibition, Corpus Americus at Driscoll Babcock Galleries (NYC). His work was also featured prominently in the exhibition, American Beauty, curated by William Villalongo at Susan Inglett Gallery (NYC).
Nathaniel Mary Quinn‘s current exhibition, Species, also organized by William Villalongo, is on view at Bunker 259, located at 259 Banker Street in Greenpoint, Brooklyn (January 12 – February 21, 2014 by appointment only).
I recently sat with the Chicago native to discuss his work and inspirations.

By Dexter Wimberly, AFROPUNK Contributor *
All artwork © Nathaniel Mary Quinn

Wounded, 50 x 38 inches
Black charcoal and gouache on lenox paper, 2013


Describe your painting/drawing practice to someone who has never seen your work.

My studio practice of drawing and painting is predicated mostly on a process of free-association; initially, I receive visions, or feel a particular emotion; in the beginning, my visions or feelings are unclear; however, it is clear that I have a visceral response to them, at which point I feel that I must make drawings and paintings based on my visions or feelings.  For the most part, I make large-scale black charcoal drawings on paper and mixed media paintings.  My drawings and paintings are an amalgamation of discordant, seemingly unrelated images of facial features and body parts; oftentimes, other visual images are employed to support the final composition, which read as abstract-figurative drawings and paintings.

What are you hoping to convey to the viewer through your art?

I hope to convey a sense of how our experiences, both good and bad, operate to construct our identities.  I also want to portray a mutual relationship between the acceptable and the unacceptable, the grotesque and what is aesthetically pleasing, that there is genuine and unrelenting beauty within the embrace of our myriad experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant.

King Kong Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Me, 2014

Is your art biographical or would you say it’s observational?

My work is highly biographical; I have come to realize that my work is heavily based on my family and my early years in Chicago. I grew up in one of the country’s most impoverished and devastated public tenement housing complexes; when I was fifteen years old, my mother died, and I was abandoned by my family;  I was the only child, having four adult brothers and a father.  Perhaps subconsciously speaking, I am re-creating my family through my drawings and paintings, my way of living with them again, of giving them a place in a world that is much different from the world in which they were born and destroyed.

How does your painting/drawing practice fit into the overall context of what you see happening in contemporary art?

While I believe that my work celebrates the historical practice of Cubism and the art of collage, I also believe that my work functions within the context of the narrative and the autobiographical, which holds a major and long-standing pillar in the contemporary art world.

Eugene, 24 x 24 inches
Oil paint, oil pastel on canvas, 2013

Who are the 2 artists that you admire most?

I mostly admire the works of Neo Rauch and Adrian Ghenie, who are both contemporary painters.  Both artists seem to work with a bona-fide sense of liberty and freedom, where methods of free-association appear to be a primary component of their overall studio practice.  Within their work is evidence of unrelated entities that share an unspeakable relationship, where tension and consolation are reciprocal.

How is your work different from what other artists are creating / showing?

While I am not completely clear about what makes my work different from that of other artists, I do most certainly believe that my approach is widely different, and my extensive use of black charcoal on large-scale paper stands out from what other artists are creating and exhibiting, and the way in which I construct portraits and the figure is, on many levels, removed from what other artists may be creating.

Irene, 50 x 38 inches
Black charcoal and gouache on lenox paper, 2013

What do you want to accomplish as an artist in the next few years, as well as ultimately?

Ultimately, I want to be remembered, to “speak into the after.”  However, in the next few years, I want to reinforce the intimacy between my work and I, for my work to be an honest reflection of who I am, for my work to be a mirror image of me.  I believe that will make my work undeniably and immovably distinguishable.

What are you working on currently that excites you the most?

Currently, I am working on a new body of work where I am synthesizing more materials on large-scale paper.  I have an unwavering excitement about discovering and investigating ways of collapsing black charcoal, oil-paint, paint-stick, gouache, oil pastel, and cardboard on the same surface.  Simply put, I must and need to create more challenging portraits and figures; my visions and feelings demand that I do so.

Showman, 50 x 38 inches
Black charcoal and gouache on lenox paper, 2013

Kenny Ray, 50 x 38 inches
Black charcoal and gouache on lenox paper, 2013

* Contemporary art curator and entrepreneur, Dexter Wimberly was born and raised in Brooklyn. Curatorially, Wimberly focuses on contemporary urban history. A passion­ate collector and supporter of the arts, Wimberly has person­ally exhibited the work of more than 200 individual artists. Dexter Wimberly also maintains a critical dialogue with emerging artists throughout the world by way of group exhibitions, public programs, and lectures at galleries and institutions such as Mixed Greens Gallery, Driscoll Babcock Galleries, The Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Brooklyn Historical Society, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA), The Savannah College of Art and Design, The Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, and The Brooklyn Arts Council.