Each of us is a cacophony of experience. Not just a seamless self.
—Nathaniel Mary Quinn
In his collage-like composite portraits derived from sources both personal and found, Nathaniel Mary Quinn probes the relationship between visual memory and perception. Fragments of images taken from online sources, fashion magazines, and family photographs come together to form hybrid faces and figures that are at once neo-Dada and adamantly realist, evoking the intimacy and intensity of a face-to-face encounter.
Quinn’s passion for drawing began at a young age, while he was growing up on the South Side of Chicago. In ninth grade, he received a scholarship to attend Culver Academies boarding school in Indiana—but a month after arriving at the school, Quinn received news from his father that his mother had suddenly passed away. He returned to Chicago for Thanksgiving the following month, only to find that the rest of his family—his father and brothers—had abandoned his childhood home without a trace. This jarring experience further propelled Quinn’s art, and he decided to commit himself to his education, adding his mother’s name, Mary, to his name so that she would appear on all of his degrees. He received a BA in art and psychology from Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana, in 2000, and an MFA from New York University in 2002.
After completing his MFA, Quinn moved to the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, where he continued to paint while working as a teacher for at-risk youth. In 2013 he had a breakthrough, developing a new technique that would draw wide attention to his work. The mother of one of his students invited Quinn to show five works in an art salon that she was hosting in her home. On the day of the opening, however, he only had four works finished. Improvising, he began to paint a blurred memory of his past, piecing together fragments of images from his subconscious. When he stepped back, he recognized the mouth of his brother Charles.
Soon afterward, the executive director of the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts in Brooklyn saw the painting, which Quinn titled Charles, and in August 2013 five more of Quinn’s paintings made in a similar style were displayed in the museum’s windows. That same year, artist and professor William Villalongo included Quinn’s work in a group exhibition, American Beauty, at Susan Inglett Gallery, New York. New York Times art critic Holland Cotter wrote a rave review of Quinn’s paintings in the show, leading to a slew of gallery exhibitions in the United States and Europe.
Since painting Charles, Quinn has been both expanding and refining a process in which he collects images from mass media that call out to him, divesting them of their original cultural context and repurposing them in a purely aesthetic manner. He then uses these visual snippets to bring imagined visions of his past and present into physical existence in his studio. Using oil paint, charcoal, gouache, oil stick, and pastel, he meticulously re-creates details and facial features from these found images, covering parts of the composition as he works. By adapting the medium of collage and translating it into a painterly, cohesive two-dimensionality, Quinn suggests that multiplicity is a perennial rather than a fleeting state.
Quinn’s first solo museum exhibition, This Is Life, was presented at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Wisconsin, from December 2018 to March 2019.
The Bigger Picture
Exalt: Youth Justice Can’t Stop
As 2020 came to a close, Nathaniel Mary Quinn spoke with Gisele Castro, executive director of exalt, a New York City nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of court-involved youth by providing a path to success through effective educational engagement. Quinn is a former educator at exalt and now serves as a member of the organization’s board.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn: In the Studio
Hear the painter describe the creation of a new work in this time-lapse documentation of his process.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn
A statement from the artist.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn and Troy Carter
On the evening before the opening of his first exhibition with Gagosian, in Beverly Hills, Nathaniel Mary Quinn joined Troy Carter for a conversation at LA’s Hammer Museum. They spoke about deliverance, Quinn’s new work, and what drives him to make art.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Anderson Cooper spoke with the artist at his Brooklyn studio about his childhood and the visionary nature of his art.
Gagosian Quarterly Fall 2019
The Fall 2019 issue of Gagosian Quarterly is now available, featuring a detail from Sinking (2019) by Nathaniel Mary Quinn on its cover.
Visions of the Self: Jenny Saville on Rembrandt
Jenny Saville reveals the process behind her new self-portrait, painted in response to Rembrandt’s masterpiece Self-Portrait with Two Circles.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn
January 27–February 2, 2021
In his composite portraits derived from sources both personal and found, Nathaniel Mary Quinn probes the relationship between visual memory and perception. Fragments of images taken from online sources, fashion magazines, and family photographs come together to form hybrid faces and figures that are at once Dadaesque and adamantly realist, evoking the intimacy and intensity of a face-to-face encounter.
Photo: Eddie Lee
Show Me the Signs
November 10–30, 2020
Show Me the Signs is an online benefit auction hosted by Artfizz to support the families of Black women killed by the police. Over 100 artists have created pieces in the form of protest signs for the auction, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the African American Policy Forum’s #SayHerName Mothers Network. Work by Louise Bonnet, Piero Golia, Meleko Mokgosi, Nathaniel Mary Quinn, and Nancy Rubins is included. To register to bid, visit artfizz.com.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Breonna Taylor, 2020 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Cecily Brown, Giuseppe Penone, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn in
100 Drawings from Now
October 7, 2020–January 17, 2021
Drawing Center, New York
The benefit exhibition 100 Drawings from Now features drawings made by an international group of artists since early 2020, providing a snapshot of artistic production during the period of profound global unrest that has resulted from the ongoing health and economic crises, as well as the surge of activism in response to systemic racism, social injustice, and police brutality in the United States. Together, the donated works spotlight the urgency, intimacy, and universality of drawing during moments of upheaval and isolation. Proceeds from the sales will support the Drawing Center and the artists. Work by Cecily Brown, Giuseppe Penone, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Treasure Hunt #2, 2020 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Person of Interest
Through July 3, 2021
Sheldon Museum of Art, University of Nebraska–Lincoln
Exploring nuances in portraiture from the late nineteenth century to today—and testing the very definition of the genre—Person of Interest presents depictions of the literal and abstracted body from Sheldon’s rich holdings and selected loans. This exhibition asks open-ended questions about self-fashioning, cultural memory, gender identity, and the performance of identity. In doing so, it prompts conversations about race and representation, institutional power, and lived experiences. Work by Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Jenny Saville, and Cindy Sherman is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Lil’ Barbara, 2017 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
February 29–September 13, 2020
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Nigerian-born British designer Duro Olowu curates a show that reimagines relationships between artists and objects across time, media, and geography. Moving away from traditional exhibition formats, Olowu combines photographs, paintings, sculptures, and films in dense and textural scenes that incorporate his own work. Work by Brice Marden and Nathaniel Mary Quinn is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Ms. Lykes, 2015 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn
Selections from the Hammer Contemporary Collection
January 24–May 19, 2019
Hammer Museum, Los Angeles
This exhibition highlights a lively mix of painting, sculpture, and media installations by more than thirty international established and emerging artists, drawn from the Hammer Museum’s collection. Work by Chris Burden and Nathaniel Mary Quinn is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, Someday, 2018 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn. Photo: Jeff McLane, courtesy the artist and M+B, Los Angeles
Nathaniel Mary Quinn in
February 13–April 13, 2019
UTA Artist Space, Beverly Hills, California
Dreamweavers contemplates the surreal in society against a vigorously shifting twenty-first century. The group exhibition examines the paradox of fact and fantasy through the lens of artists who operate from a deeply imaginative, often provocative, psychological space. Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean has collaborated with UTA Artists Space and curator Nicola Vassell to present the show. Work by Nathaniel Mary Quinn is included.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn, You Ought to Be With Me, 2018 © Nathaniel Mary Quinn