Essay from exhibition catalogue. Cologne, Germany 1997.
For more than forty years William Quinn has continually surprised us with newly invented images, not through a quest for novelty but through his naturally creative gifts. By the time of his graduation in 1953 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Washington University in St. Louis, Quinn was already a master of his craft.
Early on, Quinn’s artistic vision was judged unique and mature. His achievement as an artist is best understood as a synthesis of his outlook on life and art, his American roots, and his European experiences. He forged these elements into an artistic style which he has developed with great integrity and steadfastness.
In the summer of 1953, Quinn headed for New York City, where the Abstract Expressionists had established for the first time an American city as the art capital of the world. The young painter experienced an exhilarating artistic environment teeming with gestural energy of Pollock, de Kooning, and Motherwell. He was chosen to exhibit in a New Talent show and could have spent his career in New York. Instead, after serving in the U.S. Army for two years as a training-aids illustrator, he returned to the Midwest and used the Army benefits (G.I. Bill) to acquire a Master of Fine Arts degree at the University of Illinois.
Quinn then returned to St. Louis to teach drawing and painting at Washington University. This geographic separation from New York distanced him from the personal angst and pressure of the aesthetic revolution felt by many artists on the East Coast, but not from the tenets of modern art. At the University, where expressionists Max Beckmann and Philip Guston had recently taught, his 33-year teaching career enabled him to dialogue with American and European painters on the latest ideas and issues in contemporary art, and his class duties were minimal, allowing him ample time for his work.
Quinn’s love affair with Europe began as early as 1957 when the University awarded him a Milliken Foreign Travel Scholarship to spend a year painting in Rome. Subsequently he spent sabbaticals in Greece (1963) and Paris (1982), and often painted during summers in Europe. In his work, Quinn uniquely synthesized the elements of the European modernists with the gestural style of “Action Painting” common to certain American Abstract Expressionists.
After completing his teaching career in 1991 Quinn moved with his Belgian-born wife Jeannine to Bruges, where he now has his studio. In this ‘European Period’ he has pulled out all the stops. The paintings are spacious and bold, often with surprising color combinations that have always been an engaging aspect of his work.
Many of the recent works have white grounds in tension with aggressive, contrasting planes. Others have linear structures that seem to create a ‘real’ space, but then the lines dart back to surface, asserting the paintings’ two-dimensionality, sometimes suggesting landscape or figurative elements. William Quinn works on one painting at a time, not in a series, as he abhors repeating himself. As a result, each painting is a new experience both for the painter and viewer.
Throughout the years Quinn has exhibited widely in the U.S. and Europe, winning many prizes in competitive exhibitions. Perhaps the strongest validation of the strength and truth of Quinn’s vision is the amazing zest with which he continues to pour forth images that are ever fresh and new and full of the power to enchant.
- Genevieve Linnehan