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.