Nathaniel Mary Quinn: This is Life
December 1, 2018 to March 3, 2019

Nathaniel Mary Quinn: This is Life will be on view in MMoCA’s State Street Gallery from December 1, 2018 through March 3, 2019. The exhibition features seventeen of the artist’s mixed-media works on paper, created from 2014 to 2018. During this crucial four year period Quinn developed and refined the collage-like technique now synonymous with his name.

Quinn’s portraits initially appear to be pieced together from newspaper and magazine clippings. The artist, however, renders everything by hand. Using black charcoal and soft pastel over gouache—with careful interjections of oil paint, paint stick, and oil pastel—he masterfully manipulates his various mediums to create unconventional depictions of individuals from his past. Rather than replicating a physical likeness, Quinn’s abstracted compositions express psychological dimensions of identity.

Mirroring his understanding that an individual’s sense of self is constructed from a multitude of influences, memories, and experiences, Quinn references disparate sources of imagery—from comic books to Dutch Baroque art—to compose each artwork.

Preferring complexity and ambiguity overmimetic, or “truthful”, renderings of appearance, Quinn’s portraits actually reflect a more accurate truth about the human condition. Quinn spoke to this in a recent interview, stating; “It’s important as a people to embrace who we are and embrace our differences. It’s in our difference that we can see the similarities we share, which is that we are all complex. We are all beautiful and grotesque, we are all broken in some way, and in the midst of being broken we find ways to embrace our brokenness and carry on life. But we are all like this. Happiness, grief, joy … this is life.”

Giving image to the universal messiness of humanness, Quinn opens an important space to consider alternative ways of imagining, representing, and understanding ourselves and the world around us.


About the Artist

Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s life story deeply informs the content and compositions of his paintings. Born in 1977 as the youngest of five boys, the artist grew up in the Robert Taylor housing projects on Chicago’s South Side, a community beleaguered by poverty and violence. A talented student, Quinn won a scholarship to an Indiana boarding school at fifteen. His mother passed away shortly after he started at the school, and when he returned home to visit one month after her funeral, he found his family’s apartment empty: his father and brothers had abandoned him. Orphaned, he returned to school, strenuously applying himself so he could keep his scholarship. He ultimately attended Wabash College in Indiana, completing a BA with distinctions.

Quinn was awarded a fellowship to New York University, and earned his MFA from NYU in 2002. He is a recipient of the Lorraine Hansberry Artistic, Performance, and Fine Arts Award and a two-time winner of the National Arts Club Prize. Quinn’s work has been shown nationally and internationally in solo and group exhibitions since 2004, and his work has been reviewed in numerous publications, including The New York Times, the Chicago Reader, and the Huffington Post. Quinn’s work is included in the collections of The Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, the Hammer Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, among others.

Quinn’s personal narrative is woven into his work: he paints individuals he remembers from his past, from the drug dealers who patrolled the streets surrounding the Robert Taylor Homes to the teachers who nurtured his artistic growth. For a feature in W Magazine, the artist said his work “is about my trying to seek a resolution to my childhood; It’s my way of recreating my family so that they can continue to exist. Formally speaking, I wanted to find a way to create a stronger marriage between the grotesque and the seamless, between chaos and organization.” The vivid portraits that result can be interpreted as the artist’s extended meditation on the resiliency of human nature.


Exhibition Sponsors

Generous funding, to date, for Nathaniel Mary Quinn: This is Life has been provided by Holly Cremer Berkenstadt; Mary Ellyn and Joe Sensenbrenner; Sara Guyer and Scott Straus; Art & Sons; Betty Harris Custer and J. Corkey Custer; Dynee and Barney Sheafor; Deirdre Garton; a grant from the Wisconsin Arts Board with funds from the State of Wisconsin and the National Endowment for the Arts; and MMoCA Volunteers. 


We are grateful that the following will be MMoCA Opening community partners:
100 Black Men
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
Capital City Lodge
Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated
Madison Chapter of Links Incorporated
Madison Network of Black Professionals
Omega Psi Phi Fraternity
Tamara Grigsby Office for Equity and Inclusion
Urban League of Greater Madison Young Professionals