LondonNathaniel Mary Quinn
I have always been interested in the ways that different groups of people view one another: how they internalize their own identities, how others perceive them, and how their own self-perceptions are physically expressed. Working with portraiture during this tumultuous and historic time, as we reckon with racial discrimination and violence in the midst of a global pandemic, requires me to consider these perceptions in an entirely new way.
—Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Gagosian presents new paintings and works on paper by Nathaniel Mary Quinn. This is his first solo presentation with the gallery in London, and includes additional works online to coincide with this year’s virtual edition of Frieze London.
At Davies Street, Quinn presents a selection of paintings, as well as Three Months In (2020), his largest work on paper to date. With its wide plate glass window, this storefront exhibition space acts as the artist’s “solo booth” for Frieze London, while the Gagosian Quarterly online presents a time-lapse video documenting him making one of the exhibited paintings earlier this year, with added commentary from the artist about his process.
While Quinn’s portraits may resemble collages, they are actually rendered in oil paint, charcoal, gouache, oil stick, pastel, and gold leaf. He begins with a vision—a flash of a face from his past—that he feels compelled to translate into reality. Collecting images from magazines, newspapers, comics, and advertisements, he reimagines them as purely aesthetic snippets detached from their original contexts, before methodically reproducing each one by hand. Using the Surrealist strategy of the cadavre exquis, Quinn covers parts of his own composition with construction paper as he works, so that no existing section influences the appearance of the next. As with his Surrealist forebears, this composite approach focuses on the nuances of the subconscious, coaxing forth repressed emotions.
In these new larger-than-life portraits, Quinn turns his attention to the subtle social shifts that accompany life in a time of crisis and isolation. Each painting is born out of a specific memory or encounter; some portraits, such as Lunch (2020), are personal and introspective, evoking childhood nostalgia through soft, inviting facial features. Other paintings offer harrowing social critique, confronting the racial bias of threatening criminality that is so often thrust upon Black men. In Pig Target and Mr. Nightmare (both 2020), Quinn portrays his subjects as seen through the eyes of racist aggressors; they are dehumanized and transformed through the strategies of distortion and fragmentation into a red-clad target for slaughter, or a bestial mutant from the pages of a comic book.
Concurrently, a suite of charcoal-on-paper “enhanced performance drawings” premieres on the Gagosian website and in the Frieze Viewing Room from October 7 through 16. Quinn creates these drawings using both hands simultaneously, often “enhancing” them with colorful swaths of gouache and soft pastel. For the ambidextrous artist, the technique behind these works is a full-body performance that expands upon his spontaneous act of rendering visions, yet the end result is surprisingly and resolutely representational. Drawing is a foundational aspect of Quinn’s practice; raw, visceral, and intimately scaled, his works on paper inform the affective power and compositional rhythm of his larger paintings.
all images © the gallery and the artist(s)