Nathaniel Mary Quinn: SCENES

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Open: Tue-Sat 10am-6pm

Broadbent House, W1K 3JH, London, UK
Open: Tue-Sat 10am-6pm


Nathaniel Mary Quinn: SCENES

to Sat 12 Nov 2022

Broadbent House, W1K 3JH Nathaniel Mary Quinn: SCENES

Tue-Sat 10am-6pm


Homelander, 2022

Oil paint, oil pastel, gouache on linen canvas stretched over wood panel
121.9 x 121.9 cm, 48 x 48 in
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech. Photo: Charles Roussel

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Bubba Gump, 2022

Oil paint, oil pastel, soft pastel, gouache on linen canvas stretched over wood panel
121.9 x 121.9 cm, 48 x 48 in
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech. Photo: Charles Roussel

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Barksdale, 2022

Black charcoal, soft pastel, gouache, oil paint, oil pastel on linen canvas stretched over wood panel
50.8 x 50.8 cm, 20 x 20 in
© Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Courtesy of the artist and Almine Rech. Photo: Charles Roussel

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Added to list



This new body of work presented at Almine Rech London consisting mostly of paintings on linen canvas reflects my enduring love for movies and in particular, memorable scenes that resonate with me. It is also influenced by the seemingly “thematic nature” of social media, and more specifically the tales or narratives discussed and dissected on Instagram and YouTube. The process carried out is not defined by consciously duplicating any given scene or narrative but instead is governed by a present, subconscious, and visceral response to visions that reflect memories and ideas as they unfold in the very making of each piece, allowing for further discovery.

Within the general context of my current studio practice, and related to processes of painting and drawing, I have been deeply informed by the Francis Bacon exhibition at The Royal Academy of Art in London this past April which left an indelible mark on me. It was my first time seeing so many of his paintings and I was brought to tears.

Further motivation (or perhaps a personal conviction) resides with my wife’s ardent pursuit of a film and television career as a writer and actress. My involvement in her world has significantly grown, giving rise to a newfound discovery of film, television, and, of course, the ever-evolving landscape of social media.

— Nathaniel Mary Quinn

The Essence of Humanity
by Dieter Buchhart

If, moreover, existence precedes essence and we will to exist at the same time as we fashion our image, that image is valid for all and for our whole era. Our responsibility is thus much greater than we might have supposed, because it concerns all mankind… I am therefore responsible for myself and for everyone else, and I am fashioning a certain image of man as I choose him to be. In choosing myself, I choose man.
—Jean Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’ (1)

A superhero wearing a superhero uniform and a Superman cape holds up his hands, apparently in self-defence, while in a countermovement his cartoonish legs are rendered with a strange torsion. His face, disfigured by the overlapping of various visual elements, is only barely legible, but reveals an ambivalent expression between defence, feigned astonishment, and exaggerated self-confidence. Those intimately familiar with the series The Boys might recognize the main actor and leading superhero Homeland in the moment when the virtually invincible sociopath, lacking all empathy, mocks his counterpart just before his annihilation. In Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s oeuvre, Homelander from 2022 has become a key work in a new group of paintings on a subject that always offered an important source of inspiration for the artist. ‘I find inspiration in music and film. In particular, I watch many YouTube videos of hip-hop producers working in the studio as they make beats for new rap songs . . . And I have an obsession with watching films where the protagonist is seemingly outgunned, or intellectually challenged, or diminutive in a certain fashion. Films that come to mind are Forrest Gump and Shawshank Redemption, for example.’(2) But what deeper meaning is concealed behind the distorted ambivalent superhero figure? What was the artistic process of emergence behind this figure, whose appearance suggests a collage, rendered by Quinn with a virtually surgical precision? And how does Homelander fit into the artist’s overall oeuvre and recent art history? These are the questions that are urgently raised when we examine Quinn’s works and their complex textures and surfaces.

Vision and Intuition
Each of Quinn’s works begins with a ‘vision’, as he explains: ‘Everything I make is born from a vision, a visual idea, that becomes the blueprint for the work.’(3) In a first step, he transfers this visual idea using a few gouache brushstrokes to the support. In this form, it can be read both as prefiguration and a primeval image of the painting that can be seen as a preparatory study or a source of inspiration. Just as in Kurt Schwitters’ intuitive process of creating collages,(4) Henri Bergson’s concept of intuition in the sense of a metaphysical experience could be seen as motivating Quinn’s further work on the vision. With this concept, Bergson proposed a form of impulsive-creative and lively-complex knowledge based on moving reality. Instead of one that has become rigidified through method and conceptual apparatus and analytically fixed beyond reality, he understood this intuitive immersion as metaphysics.(5) If we take his approach further, in Bergson’s text knowledge of the existing and creative consciousness coincide in intuition. Schwitters himself used the term accordingly to describe his artistic process: ‘The artworks are consistent to the extent that they emerge in the artist in the moment of artistic intuition. Intuition and creation of an artwork are here one and the same.’(6) This open and creative attitude vis-à-vis a constantly changing reality implied by Bergson and Schwitters also seems clearly present in Quinn: ‘All I know is that I have this visual response to make them. That’s primarily what drives me. The work is telling me what it is; I am just this puppet.’(7) Quinn thus seeks to pursue the vagueness of his vision, to allow his creative consciousness to actually create: ‘I receive a vision that initially possesses no immediate meaning or understanding; yet I am overcome with this insatiable urge to make a work that reflects the vision, to actually draw and paint the vision. The visions are not crystal clear, but the emotional resonance between the vision and I is extremely palpable. I begin the process of making the work.’(8)

Prefiguration and Source Material
To realise his artistic visions, Quinn works with photographs as source material: ‘I use photographs as source material for making the work; the process of making the work reveals that I am re-creating a memory based on real life experience.’(9) In addition to Bergson’s concept of intuition as the epitome of creative consciousness, with his aspiration to come as close as possible to a vision from memory Quinn, who also studied psychology, evokes Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis, in which memory is of central importance to the extent that it is made possible by a dynamic and manipulative censorship of the unconscious that has to be worked through in psychological examination. Freud thus understood psychological symptoms as symbols of memory that refer to past experiences, similar to ancient ruins and their relationship to historical buildings and ways of life, but with a decisive addition: ‘Unlike the archaeologist, who only has to remove the layers of time and decode the mutilations caused by decay, the psychoanalyst is confronted with another force, that of repression. Symptoms emerge only due to the active and motivated exclusion of experiences from memory, resulting in distorted symbols of memory. This repression is motivated by the psychological pain once caused by traumatic or conflictual memories.’(10) To this extent and with the help of his source material, Quinn not only searches for the vision in itself, but tries to come as close as possible to the unconscious that triggers it, virtually letting his actions be controlled by it. As the surrealists had done, he seeks his creative potential by intentionally including the unconscious, and like the surrealists this psychological reference is articulated in a language of fragments, collage, and construction. In the case of Homelander, film stills of the superhero helped Quinn in reconstructing his vague vision based on memories and its unconscious background. Here, he used full body representations as well as partial renditions of Homelander’s head, legs, and torso as a foundation. Film stills from Forrest Gump supported a similar artistic process and found their way into a work entitled Bubba Gump, combining the name Forrest Gump with that of his best friend Bubba. Quinn is interested in the story of Forrest Gump, an outsider marked by society as having below-average intelligence, who becomes a shrimp fisherman to fulfil a promise he made to his friend Bubba, who had died in the Vietnam War in Gump’s arms. Gump’s business partner invests the profits from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in the still young computer company Apple, making Gump a millionaire, and he gives Bubba’s shares to Bubba’s family.

In Bubba Gump, the figure is depicted before a warm yellow background, similar to Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud from 1969 , and the figure is recognizable from his bodily posture and his shirt always buttoned up to the collar. Like the face of Lucian Freud, Bubba Gump’s face is distorted and rendered unfamiliar. But while Bacon deconstructs and deforms the faces of his figures, Quinn constructs and reconstructs the faces of the figures in his search for his vision.

Construction and Reconstruction
With gouache, charcoal, oil paint, oil pastel, and oil stick, Quinn constructs the colour bodies and surfaces of his figures with great precision. On the materials he uses, the artist notes: ‘I use black charcoal – and many different grains of black charcoal to achieve a certain effect – gouache, paint-stick, oil paint, and oil pastel on paper. My process is similar to sculpture; I construct my subjects; I use many materials because such is necessary for the construction of my subjects. Basically, I use whatever necessary to create my work.’(11) And yet, although they do not exactly use a collage technique, when looking at these artistic constructions and reconstructions we think of the collages of artists like Romare Bearden, Hannah Höch, or John Stezaker. Works like Bearden’s Pittsburgh Memory from 1964 on the one hand reveal parallels to Quinn’s face collages using various photographic models. At the same time, Bearden’s scenarios can be recognized as scenes from other works, while Quinn prefers neutral backgrounds. Inspired by Francis Bacon, in his 2022 series dedicated to film Quinn experiments with a curved arch, as in Bubba Gump, and/or an enclosing ceiling as in Alonzo, a painting referring to the corrupt drug cop played by Denzel Washington in Training Day. The neutrality of the background does not mean that the artist doesn’t move the figures in a three-dimensional space. On Stezaker’s photocollages, Quinn noted: ‘I love John Stezaker’s work, but his work is not a conscious influence. There appears to be a formal underpinning to his process; my process of the breaking and splitting and re-structuring of the faces and the figure is directly related to my experience of being abandoned by my family, which required a great deal of re-structuring in my life.’(12) The artist thus alludes to certain formal parallels to the collages of Höch and those of the Dadaists, but adds the importance of a psychological-biographical dimension and exposed personal memories. While Quinn has chosen the traditional artistic tool of the brush, the Dadaist Jean (Hans) Arp described the tools he and his colleagues used in very different terms: ‘We painted with scissors, glue and new materials . . . with collage and montage.’(13) Parallels to Höch’s work can be revealed especially in the grotesque, which Quinn himself mentions as one of the ingredients of his work. ‘I wanted to find a way to create a stronger marriage between the grotesque and the seamless, between chaos and organisation.’(14)

To create such a link between chaos and order, in his dissections of the faces as bearers of expression, Quinn seeks to achieve the greatest autonomy from the overall image. Here, he uses strategies to escape the human brain’s striving for balance and equalisation by covering neighbouring realms with construction paper or transparent foil to achieve razor-sharp edges between the fragments.

The idea of covering recalls the surrealists’ cadavre exquis. Based on the board game of the same name, in cadavre exquis the drawing of a body would be divided into various parts like head, torso, and legs. Various artists carried out the different parts by covering the respective other parts using lines that always continued into the next field.(15) According to André Breton’s definition in his first ‘Manifeste du surréalisme’ from 1924, the artists aspired towards a ‘psychic automatism, in its pure state, by which one proposes to express – verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other matter – the actual functioning of thought. Dictated by thought, in the absence of any control exercised by reason, exempt from any aesthetic or moral concern.’(16) In Quinn, some of his figures refer directly to cadavre exquis by way of their tripartite division and are ultimately also created by covering the different parts, whereby ‘the different elements don’t fit together’(17). Here, the artist places an emphasis on the equivalence and lack of hierarchy among the individual fragments and their significance, like cubism. ‘Nothing is more or less important than anything else… They [the subjects] just exist. They possess the right to exist.’(18) This equivalence of visual elements recalls Diego Cortez’ comments on Jean-Michel Basquiat and his artistic strategy and overall attitude. ‘He had the expression ‘Boom for Real’ – explosion – and then you end up with fragments rather than the cubist and post-cubist way of building sections, hatching things together, a quilt work. Jean-Michel’s work was not about a quilt, it was about a galaxy of reality that has been again exploded. So everything is equal.’(19)

Textures and Surfaces
The equal importance of the individual fragments and their significance is reflected in an intense artistic engagement with the status of the canvases or paper areas that are to be covered with layers of paint. Here, Quinn emphasises the difference between his painted fragmentation and the papiers collés of Georges Braques or Pablo Picasso, the material collages of Kurt Schwitters, or the collages created using photographs of Romare Bearden, Hannah Höch, or John Stezaker. Instead, they reveal commonalities to the synthetic cubist paintings of Braque and his use of faux bois and faux marbre, painted imitation wood and marble, to ‘imitate imitation.’(20) In her material-based ‘other history of modernism’, Monika Wagner notes: ‘Paint is presented as a material from which illusions are created, and thus the artisanal use of paint takes on the task of formulating genuine statements about its role in the image.’(21) Both Braque and Quinn replace the window of visual illusion with the view of the actual surface of the painting and its materiality, and thus create the impression of a collage with the characteristic corners and edges of pictures cut with scissors, imitating the corporeality of paper. According to Quinn: ‘There’s no collage. Everything is drawn or painted by hand… It’s two-dimensional sculpture.’(22) It is the reproduction of fragments of reality from trompe-l’oeil painting to which Quinn always refers. His interest in the materiality of the exterior tends toward the painted illusionistic mimesis of surfaces. visual illusion, always somehow spatial, is replaced by an illusion of surface material. When it comes to his painted structures, Quinn directs our ‘attention to the reality of the surface’ with the exact imitation of texture.(23) Unlike the faux bois or faux marbre of synthetic cubism, which is usually solely a question of material, in Quinn, in a double dialectic motion, the surfaces are rather stripped surfaces of structures relying on visual illusion (figurative pictures on paper), in which bare fragments of reality are represented in a way that emphasises their material in a drastic fashion.

After years of experimentation, Quinn has developed an artistic method for painting these fragments of reality with the greatest perfection. But he always begins with dry materials like charcoal and uses transparent foils to cover certain neighbouring areas. In some fragments, he also primes the surface with several layers, on the one hand to generate haptic, palpable volumes of paint and on the other to prevent the oil paints from bleeding into the canvas and the other colour areas. Here too, Quinn reveals parallels to Braque’s growing interest in the material aspect and increasing care in preparing the foundations of his paintings: ‘The priming is at the basis of everything else, just like the foundation of a house.’(24) Every canvas thus becomes a haptically palpable material surface and each precisely executed blot or splash of paint generates the desired visual impact. In Michael Jackson, subtly used yellow islands of haptic relief, like splatters of paint, create a layer placed in front of Jackson’s face. Quinn here is referring to Jackson’s famous cineastic music video Thriller from 1983, which evoked visions of horror films and a zombie apocalypse. In his painting Norman – Norman Osborn, the villain from the Spider Man comic series – Quinn’s complex technique can be clearly reconstructed. Various visual layers seem to have been placed in front of the likeness of the figure with his hair combed back tightly. The left half of the face with the hairline shifted downwards and the ear seems to have been rendered using dry materials like charcoal and pastels. This stretches along an apparently severed charcoal line to an awkward chin, which in turn develops as a conglomeration of surreally organic auricle, nasal, and lip-like shapes, roughly contoured in charcoal lines. Between the visual layers of the left side of face and the organic conglomeration of human facial traits, once again placed on top, Quinn adds an additional level that is borne by the left eye, which is fixated on the viewer with a penetrating gaze. Before and partially behind, three painted areas in yellow, blue, and blue black are inserted that break with the visual illusion and once again establish disruptive visual elements, amplifying the collage character. A red veil hangs from above the eye down to the image plane behind and next to it like a pattern of splattered blood that is left on the face of a murderer after committing the deed, ‘wherein the relationship between desire and aggression, creative and destructive action is objectified’.(25) Accordingly, in Norman, with its complex combination of fragments, distorted symbols of memory, and masterful allusions, Quinn knows how to relate the most various scenes of life to one another, as in a film sequence or a film trailer. In the reconstruction of what initially is only a vague vision of a memory, the artist constructs something new in an intuitive, creative way. By way of simultaneous fragmentation and destruction of the already existing, Quinn creates new spaces of thought and reflection by way of actual destruction, but also the demolition of concepts and historic-isms.

Vulnerability and Empathy and to ‘See the Complexity of the Humanity’
The artistic realisation of creative and destructive actions contradicts the appearance that Quinn’s portraits create. Instead, he creates visual spaces which, as in film, create various temporal levels and links distorted symbols of memory with one another. He creates entire universes that reflect the world in ourselves and prismatically reflect them. ‘I don’t paint portraits. I paint what is not seen. I paint the internalised world of a human being.’(26) Quinn thus expands his artistic repertoire of techniques – gouache, charcoal, oil paint, oil pastel, and oil stick – now adding vulnerability, weakness, and empathy. His oeuvre is defined by a search for humanity and, in Karl Popper’s words, the ‘search for a better world’,(27) never hypocritical or superficial, but always directed at world events in ourselves. Quite in the sense of Albert Camus: ‘Nothing is given to men, and the little they can conquer is paid for with unjust deaths. But man’s greatness lies elsewhere. It lies in his decision to be stronger than his condition. And if his condition is unjust, he has only one way of overcoming it, which is to be just himself.’(28)

Quinn’s gaze is fundamentally directed at the unconscious and at the distorted memory symbols which, according to Freud, refer to past events in a code as psychological symptoms. His engagement with serial murderers and sociopaths like Homelander or Ted Bundy, who spread like cancer cells in the body of society and metastasize and attack society from the inside, sharpens our gaze on our vulnerability and weaknesses. Quinn accuses superheroes of exercising limitless freedom at expense of the freedom of others. Freed of all responsibility, figures like Homelander contemptuously disregard the freedom of others. This in turn raises the question of what freedom is and how it can be defined as artistic freedom, which at the same time questions these conventions of social condition and concepts of freedom itself. This links Quinn to Francis Bacon, who ‘has always been an influence in my work. His paintings are free and liberating; it appears that his work is not bound to the conventions of painting. Rather, it appears that Bacon was investigating his personal identity and humanity, his existence and emotional bandwidth. So, it appears that the grotesque is quite beautiful; yet most people invest a great deal of energy in avoiding the grotesque, especially that which rests within themselves. The so-called grotesque nature in the loss of my family now functions as the fuel of my artistic production. The grotesque disposition of poverty, gang shootings, drug trafficking, and my direct and indirect affiliation with such conditions now function as a subconscious gateway into worlds that provide the visions for my work. My humanity is the result of the grotesque, along with experiences of happiness, achievement, and progress.’(29) On the fine line separating my freedom and the freedom of others, my symbols of memory and those of others, artistic universes develop that reflect Quinn’s search for a better world. For, in the words of Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Man is anguish. This is what they mean: a man who commits himself, and who realises that he is not only the individual he chooses to be, but also a legislator choosing at the same time what humanity as a whole should be, cannot help but be aware of his own full and profound responsibility.’(30) In this way, freedom in Quinn’s work also means taking responsibility, whereby he always remains aware of his weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Quinn’s works mirror both complexity and the essence of humanity, according to the artist’s creed: ‘I want people to see my work and see themselves and see the complexity of the humanity through my work. That’s what it is about. That’s it!’(31)

Dieter Buchhart
Translated by Brian Currid

(1) Jean-Paul Sartre, ‘Existentialism Is a Humanism’, in: Existentialism Is a Humanism, trans. Carol Macomber (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2007), 24–25.
(2) Quoted in Priscilla Frank, ‘Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s Disfigured Portraits Would Make Even Francis Bacon Shudder’, Huffpost, 9 September 2014 (; last accessed: 15 September 2022).
(3) Quoted in Dexter Wimberly, ‘Nathaniel Mary Quinn’, Issue Magazine, 13 May 2016 (; last accessed: 15 September 2022).
(4) See Christine Eckett, Kurt Schwitters: Zwischen Geist und Materie (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag, 2012), 59–116.
(5) Henri Bergson, An Introduction to Metaphysics, trans. T. E. Hulme (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1912), 1–9.
(6) Kurt Schwitters, ‘I’, Merz 2 (April 1923), 19.
(7) Quoted in Diane Solway, ‘The 6 Rising Artists You Must Know in 2018’, W-Magazine, 4 (available online:; last accessed: December 2017).
(8) Quoted in Jesc Bunyard, ‘The Interview: Nathaniel Mary Quinn’, Hunger TV, 27 August 2014.
(9) Ibid
(10) Tilmann Habermas, ‘Psychoanalyse als Erinnerungsforschung’, Gedächtnis und Erinnerung: Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, eds. Christian Gudehus, Ariane Eichenberg and Harald Welzer (Stuttgart: J.B. Metzler, 2010), 64.
(11) Bunyard, ‘The Interview: Nathaniel Mary Quinn’.
(12) Ibid
(13) Quoted in Schwitters Arp (Basel: Kunstmuseum Basel, 2004), 47.
(14) Quoted in Solway, ‘The 6 Rising Artists You Must Know in 2018’.
(15) The importance of the cadavres exquis becomes clear when we consider the 350 extant sheets. See Jean-Jacques Lebel, Juegos surrealistas: 100 cadáveres exquisitos (Madrid: Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, 1996), 22.
(16) André Breton, ‘Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)’ in: Manifestoes of Surrealism, trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Paperbacks, 1969), 26.
(17) Nathaniel Mary Quinn in: Gagosian Premieres: Nathaniel Mary Quinn Featuring Ekow Eshun, Amanda Hunt, and Raphael Saadiq, Episode 9, 16 November 2021, 24:10.
(18) Quoted in: ‘Opening: Nathaniel Mary Quinn at Almine Rech’, See You There, 14 March 2019.
(19) Diego Cortez in: Tamra Davis, The Radiant Child, documentary, with Jean-Michel Basquiat, Fab 5 Freddy, et al., Fortissimo Films, US 2010: 00:36:20–00:36:41.
(20) André Salmon, ‘Anecdote’, trans. Jonathan Griffin, Cubism, ed. Edward F. Fry (London: Thames and Hudson, 1966), 141.
(21) Monika Wagner, Das Material der Kunst: Eine andere Geschichte der Moderne (Munich: Verlag C. H. Beck, 2001), 35.
(22) Quoted in Wimberly, ‘Nathaniel Mary Quinn’.
(23) Clement Greenberg, ‘Collage’ [1959], available online:
(24) Quoted in John Richardson, G. Braque (Milan: Silvana Editoriale d’Arte, 1961).
(25) Bazon Brock, ‘Die Ruine als Form der Vermittlung von Fragment und Totalität’, Fragment und Totalität, eds. Lucien Dällenbach and Christiaan L. Hart Nibbrig (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1984), 126.
(26) Jennifer Krasinski, ‘Nathaniel Mary Quinn: This Brooklyn-Based Painter Juxtaposes Diverse Fragments of Pop-Culture Imagery to Create Powerful Figures and Faces’, Elle (November 2016), 134.
(27) Karl R. Popper, ‘Knowledge and the Shaping of Reality’, The Search for a Better World: Lectures and Essays from Thirty Years, trans. (London: Taylor and Francis, 1984).
(28) Albert Camus, ‘The Night of Truth’, trans. Justin O’Brien, in Resistance, Rebellion, and Death, (New York: Vintage International, 1960), 39–40.
(29) Quoted in Bunyard, ‘The Interview: Nathaniel Mary Quinn’.
(30) Sartre, ‘Existentialism is a Humanism’, 25.
(31) Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Gagosian Premieres, 25:30.

Courtesy of the Artist and Almine Rech. Photo: Melissa Castro Duarte

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