Monday, December 10, 2018

Nathaniel Mary Quinn at the Drawing Center

Working in black charcoal, gouache, soft pastel, and oil, then cut, collaged and pasted on Vellum, Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s work at the Drawing Center is a testament to anguish. He is a butcher of the traditional portrait, through a chopped, shattered and reassembled composition. He imbues his work with a childlike loneliness and the search to resolve a fractured identity.

I’d read about his life in a vogue article here before seeing his work in person and was impressed by his life, overcoming tragedy and finding international success as an artist.
Essentially, as a child in Chicago, he survived major trauma, including violence, poverty, and sudden abandonment by his family upon the death of his mother. His work feels cathartic, as though through collaging rendered images from iconic imagery, including JZ and the girl with the pearl earring, he is working through this trauma.

A child under pressure, almost crushed by the tension of truncated and chopped features, is a theme in his work. One striking piece, Elephant Feet, shows a sort of monster child. The face has been cut and reassembled, with fractals of eyes, a pig nose, accentuated lips. This drawing solicits both tenderness and a recoiling at the horror of this lonely, tortured elephant- pig-child, the other. It also speaks to the duality in all of us: the primal, the animal, the impolite shadow side, as well as the innocent child, tender with a red satin bow tied around the child’s neck.

Unlike light handed touch of Elijah Burgher, also in this three person show, Quinn’s mark making is fierce. The charcoal and soft pastel are saturated, the material rubbed into vellum repeatedly, polishing and condensing the material into deep, waxy blacks, greys, whites. This is indeed a drawing show, showing a wide range of three masterful hands (Toyin Ojih Odutola and Elijah Bergher as well), and Nathaniel Mary Quinn truly imbues his dark, fractured drawings with a sense of soulful tragedy.


  1. Jessica, The way in which you describe Quinn's work is very powerful-fantastic word choices! I don't quite understand how the two images you reference (JZ and Vermeer) lead to a feeling of catharsis. What is it about "iconic" imagery that his healing? Perhaps you could mention how much of his portraiture is inspired by his neighbors and how this adopted family has effected him? I would also look over your syntax- in several sentences, you double words right after each other ("" in the second paragraph, for example.) I would also contextualize Quinn's work thematically with the other two artists you mention, rather than just mentioning their differences in technique. What is it about the three that makes them a good show together?

  2. I love the way you talk about the show. Reading your piece showed me many more layers that I didn't get while looking at the exhibit. I'd love for you to talk more about his techniques. At first glance his pieces look like they are simply collages, however a closer look reveals them to be extremely detailed drawings. The look into his early life are extremely important to understand the context of his drawings. I would have appreciated an integration of the other two artists work into the piece. A comparison and contrast would have rounded out the piece.