David Quinn’s studio is a small, white, rectangular space – the box room in a house in suburban Dublin that he shares with his wife and two young sons. Small abstract paintings, the size of old paperbacks that can be nestled in one hand, hang in a line at eye-level on opposite walls. Each painting is a unit, both unique and part of a greater whole: words in a sentence, notes in a tune, hours in a day. At first glance they appear to be simple works, minimal and understated, but look again. Focus on the edges, see the layers built up like strata in sedimentary rock. Each layer is a page, a painting that Quinn has stuck down, studied, added to and covered up.
Working on several paintings at once, Quinn considers them as markers of time. They are abstract and yet, they represent time worked and time spent in contemplation. Another definition of abstract – a summary of the contents of a book, article, or speech – is also relevant. The finished paintings are summaries of the process of their creation: concentrated forms or essences.
Although Quinn has produced work of various scales, including large paintings such as Plan included in his solo exhibition Seam at Taylor Galleries, Dublin, in 2015, he keeps returning to the format 8 x 5 inches, the size of the sketchbooks he used as a design student. He finds that this scale allows him to concentrate on his process and work on numerous pieces at once. In an interview from 2014, Frank Auerbach explained his dedication to using the same models for decades.
The closer one is to something, the more likely it is to be beautiful. … The whole business of painting is very much to do with forgetting oneself and being able to act instinctively.*
Quinn’s familiarity with this format allows him to move beyond conscious thought to an instinctive, meditative state that he finds productive.
Born in Dublin in 1971, Quinn is a resolutely urban artist. He relishes the textures, patterns and materials of the city. The scars and blemishes of the pavement are as likely to provide inspiration as his artistic heroes who include Cy Twombly, Robert Ryman, Agnes Martin and Alberto Giacometti. His interest in Wabi-sabi, an aesthetic approach that draws on Buddhism and the Japanese world view centred on the acceptance of transience and imperfection and the celebration of the imperfect, impermanent and incomplete, is also evident in works which are the product of a meditative process of mark making, repetition and erasure. Perhaps inevitably during this process, hints of images or landscapes emerge. When they do, Quinn is quick to pull back from the precipice of representation. It is this tension between abstraction and representation, between mark making and erasure that gives his work its power. In those paintings where Quinn’s marks are repetitive and grid like, the image can suggest the visual equivalent of a low hum or a persistent buzz. Although abstraction is often linked to Jazz or the work of experimental composers such as John Cage, the aural equivalents of Quinn’s work are more biological than musical: a heartbeat, breathing or the whoosh of blood flowing through veins. This echoes Quinn’s realisation that for him art is not a choice, it is an instinctive biological function – a necessity.
Curator at F.E. McWilliam Gallery & Studio
*Frank Auerbach to Hannah Rothschild in Frank Auerbach: An interview
with one of our greatest living painters, The Telegraph, 30 September 2013.