Nathaniel Mary Quinn is an artist whose incredible work stays with you. Known for his captivating collage-like portraits, Quinn has created a distinct style that is a unique blend between mixed media drawings and paintings of fragmented figures that play with the viewer’s perception of identity.
Quinn was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, where he grew up in the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project. It was here that he discovered an early passion for drawing, and when was in the ninth grade, he received a scholarship to study at Culver Academy boarding school in Indiana. While enrolled there, Quinn was told that his mother had passed away suddenly, and when returning home from school for Thanksgiving, he also found that the rest of his family had abandoned his childhood home with no explanation.
With a steadfast determination to overcome this unthinkable hardship, Quinn focused intensely on his education and his art, and he formally added his mother’s name of Mary to his own to ensure her legacy would endure and appear on all of his future degrees. After high school, Quinn enrolled at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana, where he received a BA in Art before attending New York University for an MFA.
While living in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, Quinn began to develop his painting style while also serving as a teacher for at-risk youth. After being invited to showcase some of his works in an art salon, Quinn found that he needed to quickly improvise and create another additional painting to be displayed. He began to paint from fragments of his memory and subconscious, realizing that he had painted a depiction of his brother, Charles.
The finished work, titled Charles, would serve as a springboard for Quinn’s distinct choice of style while bringing him recognition for his incredible talents. He now continues to create paintings from a wide range of materials, including family photographs, images from articles and advertisements, and his own oil painting and charcoal drawings. His paintings are now recognized widely for their blending of unusual materials and abstract figures as much as they are for their powerful symbolism of the viewers’ own fractured and multi-faceted identities.
Quinn has always been interested in how other people view one another, and his works encourage all of us as viewers to look at our perceptions of our family, friends, and even strangers in a different way. I find his work to be entirely different from anything else, and his story is one that deserves to be remembered and shared.