The following is an article by Susan Campbell from the Spring 2018 edition of the Irish Arts Review:


David Quinn’s recent showing in Taylor Galleries was exciting, but not declamatory. ‘I like making work that people can live it,’ he says. ‘Rather than shouting ‘Hi’ every time you enter a room, they work on you in a quieter way. They’re there in the corner, they don’t go away.’ What appears at first to be a modest array of broadly similar paintings, becomes, with proximity, soft engineering that draws the attention in and out of different dimensions. Rewarding those with time to the time invested in making them, the works strike a judicious note. In a culture that prizes outward appearance, often to a tyrannical degree, they seduce with depth and ambiguity. But the surfaces, too, suggest an ease with beauty.



Their wealth of detail reflects Quinn’s myriad influences, formative encounters with people, places and materials fuelling a practice that developed out his interests. Working in abstraction, like many of the American post-war artists he admires, he views spirituality as integral. Explorations of Buddhism and other denominations have fostered renewed appreciation for the Catholicism of his youth. Other inspirations include his grandmother’s ‘elegant cursive script,’ childhood comics (for their ‘wonderful line’ and handling of negative space), and the accoutrements of the claasroom; pencils, erasers, set squares, which he loves and continues to use. ‘It’s not that I want to go back to school’, he laughs. But he has no issue with nostalgia, a sensibility that ‘sparked the Renaissance’. Studying visual communications when it was still hands-on and materials-based, Quinn began to experiment by juxtaposing eclectic elements in note-books. Relishing their diary feel, these ‘objects’ informed the evolution of works that, displayed singly as in Ceremony, or grouped, have a standalone integrity. His ‘copybook’ aesthetic is especially visible in Strata, which, with its deep-toned layers, recalls the carvings on school desks. Dark vertical lines, closely spaced like tree rings, are overlaid with horizontals, both then patchily reworked in white. Occasional slippage from pre-ordained grooves nudges order towards chaos, and the juncture where, Quinn believes, interesting things happen. There ‘events’ emerge from his process; a mismatch here, an imperfection there. Working across multiple sheets of paper allows freedom to make kistakes, tease out ideas and exploit idiosyncracies. Successes are mounted on plywood for extra physicality.

Quarry Street comprises eight book-sized pieces, its lemon white, pearlescent grey and velvet blue palette - the latter from an oil-based pencil the colour of carbon paper - evoking brooding skies and winter sun playing on stone and slate. An oblique glance across the four-by-two array affirms the plywood’s contribution, with its range of hues and thickness of stripe. Colour-wise, this group is more restrained than the autumnal Tomnafinoge, but tuning down to its wavelength reveals a gentle push-pull of ply to ply, ply to surface, surface to surface, and layer to layer. The overriding interplay here, and throughout, is horizontal-vertical. Quinn acknowledges a connection to textiles; his father was a tailor and his mother worked with wool, so he is ‘aware of the textures and feel of different materials’.

The mark-making across exhibits echoes impulse-driven doodles, but infused with sophistication. Up/down shading, off-set ‘fish-scale’ patterning, and ‘stitch-like’ rows and columns fill, or part-fill, the mounted ‘pages’. Paper-punch holes with gouged-out tails dart like shooting stars in the gesso-and-plaster February, while Stack and Mine see horizontal form ‘verticalised’ by oppositional rectangles. Mounted on wood and modulated using gesso and graphite, the semi-opaque Slip, bedrock, Core, Shunt and Slate take the veil-like washes of paper-based works to a new level. Concealing/revealing submerged elements, they are pierced and scored in ways that can justifiably be described as poignant, by dowels, drill holes, lacerations and scews. Quinn’s relatives worked with Perspex for many years, and these most sculptural, other-worldly, yet industrial of his output fulfil a long-held intention to explore its possibilities. With an upcoming exhibition in the West Cork Art Centre, Skibbereen, Quinn aims ‘ to fill the space, but not crowd it out’ with work that, much like a haiku, is ‘succinct and to the point; enough’.