Nathaniel Mary Quinn Exhibit Opens at
MMoCA on November 30th
Expressive Memories of The
‘Hood
From left to right: “First and Fifteenth,”Nathaniel
Mary Quinn, “Charles Revisited,” and “”Junebug -
2015”
Part 2 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling

Nathaniel Mary Quinn — he changed his middle name so that his deceased mother’s name would be on his diplomas, something she never earned, but always
encouraged — is a gifted multi-medium artist whose almost cubist and Romare Bearden like expressions are centered in his childhood in the Robert Taylor Homes
on the south side of Chicago. Quinn’s art is thought provoking and emotion touching, evincing conscious and unconscious reactions to his art.

Quinn’s artistic prowess exhibited itself at an early age when he started drawing on the walls of his family’s apartment.

While Quinn got his first big break when he had an exhibit at Pace Gallery in London, Quinn will always remember Madison as well. On November 30th, Quinn will
give a talk at MMoCA at the opening of his exhibit there, the first time he will have an art museum exhibit.

“It will be my first solo museum exhibition,” Quinn exclaimed during a phone interview. “That is the cream of the crop of exhibitions. Everyone knows that. I will be
lying if I said otherwise, without question. A solo museum exhibition is the top of the food chain. I have had some great gallery exhibitions. And those are more
commercial shows. Of course you can make money with those. But the museum shows are where you really begin to have a more critical appeal. You really start to
dig in a little bit deeper in the canons of contemporary art history. That’s a big thing there man. It’s my first solo museum exhibition. It’s great and it comes equipped
with a beautiful catalogue. Let me tell you this man. You have to understand. I’m from nothing. I’m from poverty. I’m from the projects. I’m from a community where
these facial designs you could come up with were laid bare for the destruction for any kind of dream, of any kind of hope. And to come out of that and now find
myself  having a solo exhibition at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art accompanied by a catalogue? Come on man. That’s beyond me. That’s crazy. I’m still
happy about it right now. I’m so excited about it. I’m thrilled. I’m just so wow. Right now, I’m in a group show at the Drawing Center Museum in New York. But it’s a
group showing. The Drawing Center Museum is a phenomenal institution, no doubt about it. It’s one of the best in the country. But a solo museum show, I would say
that’s the most prestigious show of today without question.”

When Quinn was developing his unique artistic style, he was interested in artistic expressive freedom. He wanted to be himself and not a caricature of some other
artist.

“My focus was on artists like Lucian Freud,” Quinn said. “We all know that he is a formidable painter, a powerful, landmark painter. But I was more impressed with
his sense of freedom, the way that he was able to just let go. I thought that he just didn’t care, that he was being free. That’s what captured my attention about Lucian
Freud. And I wanted to find a way to somehow execute that sort of pictorial language in my own work. I just always believed that if there was a way that I could
create a language that would be a reflection of myself, then I would be doing something great. It’s just not easy to execute individual expression at all. Most people
tend to be chic. It takes a lot of courage to really express yourself in the way that you want to do it. I also knew that expressing myself in a way that was a reflection
of my disposition and my life, I felt confident that I would then create something that was distinctive with a very unique language. Everyone here is unique. There is
no one else with the same genetic code as mine. There is no one with the same genetic code as yours. If there was a way that I could express that in my work, then
I felt that is what I wanted to do.”

Quinn draws a distinction between the innate abilities or skills of an artist and the ability to be artistic. While one can mimic art through great technical skill, one
must be hooked into the energy and flow of life to be truly artistic.

“There is also a connection with other people and other ideas and belief systems and that sort of thing,” Quinn said. “I’m just constantly looking for ways to try to
express those ideas in the most honest way possible. For example, if I wanted to paint someone, paint about a particular idea, I try to remove my own personal
interpretation because I don’t want to describe it. Me describing it is just me describing it, but it’s not me like really having any empathy for the subject. That means
a lot of empathy is required for my process. And then I try to allow that energy from the subject just flow through me. That means as an artist — I’m talking about
myself here — I have to drop as much as possible my ego and my pride. It ain’t about me. You have to diminish yourself so that the work can rise to the top. It’s
about the work. I’m just a conduit, that’s it. And I let the energy flow through me onto the canvas or the paper.”

And that connection must also be the with the medium in which one works.

“I will never run out of things to paint about and you never run out of the scope of experimentation about painting and drawing itself,” Quinn said. “Now we get to a
conversation about the materiality of making art because you’re dealing with materials, the paint, the chalk and the pastels. You begin to present a growing respect
for the materials. You have to get into a long relationship with the materials that you are working with. You get to a romance with the materials. You learn to respect
the pastels and the charcoal and the paint sticks and the paint and the palette knife. You have to have a considerable level of respect for the materials. Initially
when I first started working with paint sticks, for example, I will never forget it. I was choosing the materials in a way that was a bit aggressive, a tad bit assertive,
which is fine. But I wasn’t getting the results that I wanted because I wasn’t showing the kind of respect necessary for the paint sticks. But when I started to work
with the materials in a way that was more sensual, more romantic, more beautiful, more respectful, then things started to change. Magic started to happen. You
have to have some respect for the materials. When you understand that, you and the materials are one and the same. It turns out that I am made of the very same
elements as the paint that I am working with. We are cousins in many respects. We all come from the earth, so you want to treat it that way, treat it with a great
amount of respect as if you’ve made love with the materials, you laid with the materials and you speak and have conversations with the materials and how you
wield those materials across the surface of the paper or the canvas. That’s how you get a little bit deeper into your practice.”

There is a saying that you can never go home again once you’ve advanced in your profession. While Quinn makes his home in New York City, he will be returning to
the birthplace of his artistic talent and vision.
“My third solo show next year is with Rhona Hoffman Gallery of Chicago,” Quinn
said. “But that’s not the south side of Chicago. But in Chicago, there is a new
housing museum of art. They tore down many of the projects in Chicago on the south
side. But they retained one of the buildings. Over the past 10 years, they’ve been
raising all of this money and doing all of this construction to turn that old project
building into a museum. They are going to call it the National Public Housing
Museum, which pays respect and homage to the history of public tenement housing
in Chicago. That’s fantastic. And they already tapped me to do the inaugural
exhibition of the museum’s grand opening. It’s great. It’s a beautiful thing. Who knew
there would come a day when after growing up in these very projects, I would come
back full circle and do the opening exhibition. Of a museum that has been
transformed from a project building. This is great. I’m really excited about it.”

Quinn’s art will have come full circle. It is a tribute to the human spirit when people
can rise above almost impossible circumstances to now return as an artistic hero.
That is a story worth telling.