By Celine McGlynn, 2020
Ann Quinn’s work is rooted in the East Donegal farm where she grew up, the darling youngest child of a family of ten. She says that winter is her favourite season. This new body of work is inspired for the most part by the cold north of Ireland and the villages of Andenes and Bleik, on the island of Andøya, Nordland County, Norway, where she did an artist residency in 2018. She has inherited a deep reverence for the land from her parents who met in a potato field on the farm near where she now lives. They recently celebrated 56 years of married life.
What is most striking about Ann Quinn is her absolute commitment to art; to the meaning and mystery, it brings to her life. What her commitment has done for Donegal and by extension the harsh terrain of Nordland County, is accord the landscape, the people and the animals that interact with it, dignity and a legacy of belonging to the sacred. The relationship between humans and land, the connection to the earth that sustained her ancestors is acknowledged again and again. Her great-grandparents reared five children at the nearby townland of Drumcrow during the famine in Ireland. This is where her father was born and grew up.
The theme of home and family in the images of houses is recurrent in this collection. A dark foreboding sky falls through the roof of a white Norwegian house in North Calling that gives the exhibition its title. Two white houses, a red house on the left and a turquoise house on the right make up the middle ground. A red-booted, hooded female figure, looks away from the viewer. She embodies the intrinsic isolation of a northern life, the resilience born of having to withstand the harsh climate with drifting snow and be part of it at the same time.
My Ancestral Home and The Night I Arrived Home it was Snowing are deeply personal to Ann Quinn. A childhood-blue sky marked with a shock of yellow, red and ocher arcs over the silage pit held down with tyres, to the left of the family home that appears out of morning mist in the middle ground of the work. The landscape lives and breathes out of the painting, a vast contained world.
The almost black sky reflects the colours of the farm in The Night I Arrived Home it was Snowing. Ghostly spectres of the night emerge. The family home looms larger in the moonlight. I am reminded of the stillness of snow, its calmness and see into the life of the farm, its deep heart. Snow which features in many of these works can make us look at our habitual
surroundings as if they had not been encountered before in this never-to- be-repeated moment.
In John Craig’s Farm, Drumcrow, an astonishing work, a sky streaming pink, dark blue, yellow and fiery red shines over a north of Ireland farm. The artist’s trademark bare trees shelter the partly visible homestead. The entire foreground and most of the middle ground is farmland, holy ground, a frenzy of life in all its unsettling vibrancy.
Norway’s immense landscape, sparsely populated with a harsh climate and long distances is encapsulated in North Expanse Behind
Mountains with its tiny dwellings in the shadow of colossal mountains behind a just-seen lake and snow-covered foreground. It’s all the more evocative in Silence on Late Snow with its single dwelling in front of a lake from which mountains rise.
Imagine Living There invites the viewer into the painting, into the house. A pale sky over trees reveals the house and reveals the symphony of shapes that Ann Quinn sees everywhere in nature. It’s as if the bones of the world are holding the house and the area around it in an embrace. Very unusual trees feature in Warm Breath of Trees that was inspired by a Belgian detective series. Ann Quinn says that sometimes the best thing about a series is the location. In this work, it’s a surreal location, part fact, part mystery, where the trees become still silent teachers. I am reminded of the late Donegal poet Francis Harvey who said:
“In poetry, it is the concrete image that appeals to me. I try for clarity with mystery. Clarity on its own is not enough. You also need mystery.”
Moonlight’s silver silence bathes the house in Night of the Supermoon. A bare tree becomes electric, vibrates with energy from moonlight
in Expanding Light. Five Women Howling at the Moon was inspired by Ann Quinn’s time at a wild prairie near the Ragdale Foundation in Illinois when she did an artist residency in 2016. Exhausted from working on the collection of ideas for the Human Presence, her 2018 exhibition at Taylor Galleries, she did not complete the painting. I am delighted to see it here. The unforgettable piece is small – 10×10 cm but expands far beyond what is known. One of the women who attends the residency every year goes out into the prairie when there is a full moon and howls at the moon with whoever is willing to go with her. Ann Quinn’s genius lies in the fact she does not paint the moon. The women are howling at, to and for the light.
Another small work, It’s a Hard Oul Life, rooted in Ann Quinn’s homeland, depicts her father with a yard brush, bent over an unforgiving landscape under an icy sky. Two of the artist’s brothers take centre stage in Brothers.
They walk through drifted snow into the blueness of a winter sky. You sense their affinity, the leaning towards each other, the blessing of brotherhood seeping into the snow and sky. Ann Quinn’s partner Daniel Lipstein is painted making a photograph in The Photographer. Here is an invitation to acknowledge the landscape, to accept where we find ourselves in the world.
Birds feature in this collection, most notably in Urban Scene, reminiscent of the artist’s earlier work. Here they rule the world from the top of street lamps. A small painting Murmuration holds the amazing image of a swooping mass of starlings seen over the Shannon River.
One of the greatest treasures of an Irish childhood is an openness to myth, an acceptance of magic as the norm. The Approaching Presence of Night has an exquisitely painted hare to the right of the foreground on fort- like Binnion Hill. Many years ago Ann Quinn’s father told her mother that he saw a hare on Binnion Hill. The hare was racing across the field. He believed that the hare was transformed into an old lady who was buried there. Here the artist has created a narrative landscape from the story shared by her parents.
How do you respond to Christie, North is Calling? All I can do is weep. Christie, Ann Quinn’s art student is painted in the final year of his life. He is seen under an ominous grey sky with a hint of blue. Storm clouds gather. He holds a Norwegian House in his left hand and an artist’s paintbrush in his right hand. The deep wrinkles, age spots, marks on his face, neck, arms and hands tell of the joys and sorrows of his life, the worry, humour and passion. He engages directly with the viewer, free of vanity, free of ego. Ann Quinn has put her heart and soul into this work and produced a profound record of the life of a man. He is transparent, revealing ageless inner beauty. Timeless. Utterly perfect.
Bjornstjerne Bjornson the Norwegian writer who received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Literature said:
“A meaningful life – this is what we look for in art, in its smallest dewdrops as in its unleashing of the tempest. We are at peace when we have found it and uneasy when we have not.”
Ann Quinn makes us aware of true meaning in her paintings infused with clarity but also haunting mystery, the true north of her extraordinary vision.
Celine McGlynn is a poet and artist based in Donegal.
By Deborah Derrickson Kossmann, 2020
Ann asked me to write this essay for her latest exhibit, North Calling, in what I refer to now as “the before time” of Covid-19. Since our lockdown in March, it’s clear that Ann’s visual poetry is something we need in our pandemic “afterlife.” North Calling is a meditation about the oldest season, a time of hibernation and survival. Winter forces nature to harden to endure the cold, as we hold on for the arrival of spring.
Ann and I met in 2014 at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Slender and dark haired, she bent over the table in her studio using fine-tipped brushes to work on the small canvases that were easily transported from her native Ireland. Ann had been at the residency for a few weeks before my arrival, and when I saw her paintings, I told her I was immediately reminded of Andrew Wyeth. Someday, I said, she had to visit Philadelphia, so I could take her to the Brandywine River Museum to view his studio and more of his work.
What immediately struck me that day about her layered and tiny paintings was how she used light to create the feeling of wonder and dream-life in her work. Her images are archetypal and resonate with the specificity of place. She lives across the road from the farm where she grew up in Donegal. Like Wyeth, her vision is grounded in a particular landscape. Wyeth said about his painting process, “I think it’s what you take out of a picture that counts. There’s a residue. An invisible shadow.”
In this exhibit, Ann’s work too, contains shadows about what exists unseen on the other side of the horizon–weather, stars, mountains or houses. Her paintings suggest a world parallel to this one that we aren’t conscious of and to which we don’t pay enough attention. Ann’s paintings say, “Be still. Listen and look closely. There’s much to learn in the dark season.” Her work is meditative and in the stillness of contemplation we are invited to join, we learn about our relationship to the natural world and what’s unconscious beneath it. Perhaps we are like those starlings in “Murmuration,” swirling black dots that twist and twirl though the air as we keep safe from predators and warm ourselves in the dusky winter evening.
In many of Ann’s paintings, people are small in proportion to the landscape surrounding them, representing the universal human condition. In “Brothers,” two tiny men, Ann’s own brothers, walk shoulder to shoulder, over solid waves of snow, through a wash of winter colors. Dwarfed by the blue-gray sky, a comet shape rises overhead like a fairy tale. “Five Women Howling at the Moon” wearing coats, gather in one corner of the canvas as they call out, the black sky breaking with their voices and white light raining down. It’s as if the sky responds to their calls, electricity and brightness cracking over them. “It’s a Hard Oul Life” portrays a bundled-up older man, Ann’s father, bent over from his labor of shoveling, hat and coat the same color as the sky and what he is cleaning up. In the mess, there’s only weather and ground surrounding him, almost indistinguishable. “The Photographer,” Ann’s partner Daniel, also bundled against frigid air, snow and mud swirling across the ground he walks upon. He seems far away from the sheltering house that is almost out of the picture. He is trying to see something as warm light begins to creep across the sky after a storm has cleared.
“Christie, North is Calling” combines Ann’s fascination with portraiture with the image of houses that frequently appear in her work. He is the exception to the usual size of her people, dominating the canvas. Wearing a bright red shirt, Christie holds a slim paintbrush between his fingers. He also balances a small house, perhaps his own residence, gently in his giant weathered hands. Christie is based on a 93-year-old man Ann worked with at her job at a nursing home in Dublin. His eyes look at us as though offering a gift. He is the landscape, his aging body the terrain of the world.
Ann’s houses contain a secret world we don’t see. The house represents the self, our embodied landscape. Ann’s houses are like solid fortresses, like mountains in the landscapes she paints. Even the doll-sized house in the “Christie” painting seems unbreakable. These houses exist in her paintings as part of nature, too. They hold people apart from the natural world yet belong to it as well.
It wasn’t until I visited Ann’s home and studio in Donegal in 2018 that I fully understood that the angles and houses in her paintings weren’t purely imaginary creations. The colors and space are actually in her blood from being raised here. The tilted roads, the enormous sky, the green of the fields and the smell and sound of her neighbor’s cows roaming Ann’s backyard appear throughout her meticulous observations. Across the street and down the road from her house lies her family’s farm of many years, solid low buildings rooted in the fields. The countryside here is rich in color and texture. With great delight, she pointed out to me the delicate roses climbing up the side of her parent’s shed. Ann’s own house is newer with windows everywhere. It’s filled with light and contains studios for her and Daniel. Here she has room for her larger canvases. Each meal lovingly cooked by Daniel was eaten at a wide kitchen table overlooking the landscapes I’d seen in her paintings. One night we watched the mist rise off the ground in the fields below creating a mirage of water in the pinkish sunset. Like Ann’s work, her home was full of quiet care, peacefulness and an appreciation for detail.
Night and silence and stillness move through all the paintings in this exhibit, but there is always a kind of hope in the landscape, even in the darkest, most turbulent moments. In “Silence on Late Snow” we look down a long road, perspective from high up, starling height. Below us are distant water and mountains, vegetation painted almost like veins in the body of the earth. The house is small, and it seems there is only one way to get to it in all that emptiness. In “That Night I arrived Home, It was Snowing” her family’s farmhouse has darkened windows and a sense of foreboding, the texture of the sky around the house like an old photo that has gotten wet, decaying with time, while the house, solid and sturdy, remains. Ann’s houses have a presence, and in many of her paintings, it seems people are inside. In “The Night of the Supermoon” and “Imagine Living There,” both paintings created from Ann’s time at The Ragdale Foundation, outside Chicago, the suburban houses are made small by nature. It’s as if they are hiding behind the veil of late autumn. These houses seem to be overrun by the natural world, in this case the wild prairie preserve located behind the residency property.
In the other pure landscape paintings, Ann’s contemplation and reflection is evident. In “Mirage over a Frozen Lake,” dark trees reflect on water. But the viewer is puzzled by the clarity of the reflection and feels disoriented. Fiery colors of fall fade into the dark starkness of what’s left on the other side of the pond. In “Expanding Light,” snow or hail rains down in darkness, a tree reaching up as if receiving annunciation in that moment. It’s a joyous celebration of the winter solstice, light coming for a moment of grace. “The Approaching Presence of Night’s” landscape is of a ferocious impending storm, dark clouds clotting the sky over green fields and getting ready to release rain or snow. We almost don’t see the camouflaged hare in the foreground, looking away, no escape for what’s coming in the wild grass surrounding it. The hare is alone, yet we know somehow it will survive. In “The Warm Breath of Trees,” we stand apart and outside the forest line looking into the pine tree’s density, wondering what the trees protect, this fence wrought by nature which keeps us out while still letting us observe what secret we can see, dimly between the trunks, hidden in the dark.
When Ann visited Philadelphia in 2016, we visited the Magic Gardens, The Brandywine River Museum and the Barnes Foundation. I jokingly called it our “artist tour.” Two moments stand out to me from that weekend. The first was her love of a painting by Henri Rousseau (Unpleasant Surprise, 1901) at the Barnes Foundation. It depicts a naked woman in the sunset by a river being surprised by a bear while a man dressed in black aims a gun at the animal. We looked at the painting several times, Ann apologizing for dragging me back to the room to look again. It happens to be one of my favorites as well, and we spent a long time just standing in front of it. The other moment was at the Franklin Fountain Ice Cream parlor where she declared our ice cream “brilliant.” Ann’s joyous ability to pay attention and be present in the world, is one of the benefits of friendship with her, reminding me of how rich life is. It’s this energy that infuses all her art.
In the exhibit title painting, “North Calling” a woman, who could be Ann herself, walks the road in the village. This is from her time in Andenes during a residency. She is small in comparison to the wide-open landscape. She’s dressed in black, echoing the gray and black sky swirling over her, a storm that is beginning to overtake and cover the white house she seems to be leaving. That house in the painting feels empty, with dark windows, no warmth or life. Perhaps it’s abandoned or just closed up against the cold. The woman has her back to it. She’s exposed to the elements and seems to be headed away from the town, leaving the canvas in the flat light of the cold Norway winter. She is hunched against the freezing wind. Her feet leave the frame of the painting and she is free to explore, to see, to dream what’s calling her next.
Deborah Derrickson Kossmann’s poetry, essays and articles have appeared in various publications including The New York Times. She recently completed a memoir, What We Hold On To and is looking for a home for it. She is a clinical psychologist in private practice outside Philadelphia, PA.
By Elissa Favero, 2018
I met Ann Quinn nearly two years ago at an artist residency in Illinois. For four weeks, we lived across the hall from one another in a great house at the edge of a prairie. We each walked its trails; sometimes our paths would cross and we would call hello across the swaying grasses. At breakfast, we talked about our ramblings. The conversation would meander, as walking legs do. Walking gave way to books and films, music, family.
Ann was intrepid. “Have you seen the white mansion with the mansard roof?,” she would ask. And so on my walk later that afternoon, following her directions, I would seek out the house, or the still pond across from it, or the perimeter of the golf course to the southwest. I heard about them all from Ann. My photographs from that month—mostly taken during these solitary strolls—are filled with leaf-strewn paths, slanting aspens and fiery red oak leaves, milkweed husks, and reflections on quiet water cast in crystalline fall light. One night, a group of artists and writers went out to howl at the harvest moon that shown full and bright behind feathery clouds. Ann walked in front. Everywhere I went, I was treading in her footsteps.
Since returning home, we’ve corresponded from afar about a videogame that traverses an Irish countryside full of mythological characters and ghosts. We’ve written back and forth about the paths that Irish Catholics followed in secret to reach the masses that had been outlawed by the Protestant-controlled parliament. One mass rock is sited high on the hills near where she lives in northwest Ireland, Ann wrote to tell me. I imagine walking up to it, picture the upturned angle of feet on the steep green incline so different from the flat golden grasslands we had come to know during those autumn weeks. Even across the distance of miles and months, it seems we are walking.
Now, as I look at the paintings Ann has made from that time at Ragdale and from elsewhere, I observe tangles of accumulation: the network of fractured ground lines in Don’t Disturb the Corn Eaters and the dense, crossing branches that feature in so many of these paintings and grow, finally, into the tight, interlaced knot of Robert’s Cottage. In others, the application of oil paint is thin and fluid. (Note the irregular edges that read like a passing surface reflection in American Haircut, or the roiling clouds above Jill Soderberg on Her Daily Walk with Her Three Dogs, or the liquid sky in Waiting to Happen.) Are these worlds dissolving or coalescing? Either way, we’re suspended in a state of flux, caught in imaginary movement between one state and another.
I see into so many of these paintings as I would into windows. Some are fleeting views, snapshots really. Here, for instance, a barbershop observed on the way to catch the train into Chicago. I peer into a forever-stilled, intimate moment between old men. Or here an elderly woman pushing her walker among portraits in a gallery. Like the framed paintings behind her (past selves, perhaps, or the unrealized possibilities of the ladies she might have become but didn’t on account of history or circumstance), she’s on view as well. Other paintings here by Ann have the appearance of deep space and time, as in the layered, loving portrait of her parents seen through a parlor window. At her newly finished house and studio in Donegal, Ann writes, she has twenty-seven windows and seventeen doors from which to see out, from which to look in.
In a recent interview, the American writer Lauren Groff spoke about a new collection of short stories she’s gathered together under the title Florida. The interviewer asked her about a pattern she had noticed in these stories: humans dissolving into animals, people becoming weather. “The older I get,” Groff answered, “the more my own boundaries seem to be fading…If I live to be eighty…I’ll be transparent and able to walk through my neighbor’s front doors, not just look through their windows.”
Ann has a painting of Groff from that month at Ragdale, from early one morning when she was out walking the prairie. Ann heard a rustle of leaves and all of a sudden Groff came around a turn and was beside her. “Don’t be afraid,” she whispered as she darted past. Groff offered Ann these mollifying words, giving her, too, the painting’s title. In the painted scene, we see her from behind, after she’s rushed by and into the crisscrossing prairie grasses and raking light of sunrise, her person and voice already radiating out.
I had similar experiences in the prairie. There were times out walking when I would hear a noise in the brush beyond the trail. I’d imagine a large animal moving unseen and be surprised when only a bird—an Eastern Meadowlark or American Goldfinch, perhaps—would emerge. I remember, too, how I sat at the edge of the pond by the white house and watched circles form from a single drop onto its surface, one rippling out from the next in perfect concentric geometries. Sound and form breaking past boundaries, spreading wide.
And so the windows of Ann’s paintings open up to the larger landscape of the prairie, or the field, or the city. They yield to memory and imagination. I walk alongside
Elissa Favero teaches at Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle and writes about art, architecture, and landscape.
The Art of Ann Quinn
By Julia Phillips, 2018
Ann Quinn came to the Ragdale artist colony in the fall of 2016, at a moment when the United States was cracking open. The period of her residency in the American Midwest overlapped with the campaign season, and then the national election, in which Donald Trump was made the country’s president. Surveys had predicted his loss with almost total certainty. His win–and the “America First” rhetoric, anti-immigrant vitriol, and white supremacist rallies that accompanied it–exposed the rapidly spreading fissures in U.S. society. This nation was more volatile, more partisan, than most of those at the polls had previously recognized. There is great viciousness in the country. There is constant danger.
Ragdale was a strange place to be at that time. It is designed to be a shelter from the small storms of everyday life: cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, business meetings. Even large stresses–your parent is sick, your marriage is struggling–are alleviated on the colony grounds. Perhaps your country is crumbling. No matter. The artist colony takes care of its residents. It prepares their meals, it cleans their rooms, it gives them studio space, it sets rules for respectful silence to ensure no other person’s presence will become bothersome. The only responsibility artists are given is to come to dinner each night; there, people talk softly to each other about their days of work, chat about common interests, compliment the chef on her fine cooking. That fall, the private mansion next door to the Ragdale estate had a Vote for Trump sign posted in its front yard. No one in the Ragdale dining room spoke about that. I was there with Ann. We shared our plans for our different projects. I didn’t see what was happening around us.
Ann saw. She has a particular way of seeing that allows her to perceive, and then show others, the fissures, the disruptions, the shifting ground we’re treading in our everyday lives. The historic grounds of Ragdale include 50 acres of stunning native prairie. Ann’s painting “Don’t Be Afraid” depicts the Ragdale prairie in the early morning, just as the sun is rising, when the land’s greens and yellows are at their pale peak and the trees make thin silhouettes against the sky. On the left side of the canvas, a woman in athletic wear is jogging down a path away from us. She’s small, neat. Her hair is in a ponytail. Her sweatshirt’s hood hangs between her shoulders. The creases and seams on her clothing, the soles of her sneakers, the spot where the morning sunlight hits her curled right hand, are recorded on the canvas meticulously. The woman in the painting is precise and perfect.
Over her head is a black and green stain. The stain is watery and irregular. It bleeds around the runner’s side, down to the bottom edge of the canvas, and up, across the fine branches of the trees and into the dawn sky. It is touched by brighter spots in places, which look like bits of light coming through a stained-glass window: here a few spots of blue, there some streaks of red, there some yellow. The more the stain is illuminated, the more three-dimensional it appears. It could not have been there the morning that woman was running, and yet it looks absolutely present in that prairie, seeping along the path, growing into the sky.
That black stain on the left side of the canvas is not the only irregularity in the scene. The path the runner travels is traced with purple and orange. The prairie itself is veined with white that moves against the grain of the grasses. Two dry black smudges are on the bottom right. The interruptions and overlays don’t disturb the beauty of the morning prairie; instead, they enhance and enrich it. They reveal the prairie as more complex, dynamic, and unpredictable that it might have appeared that morning to a casual observer’s eye. In her painting, Ann captures the world, and then she shows the world under that world, the world around that world. She presents to us without judgement all the shapes, colors, and lights we did not know to see.
Ann’s art makes its subjects–the runner, the huge and calamitous earth–both aesthetically thrilling and emotionally resonant. The woman on the canvas in “Don’t Be Afraid” draws our eye. We can imagine ourselves wearing those same sneakers and hurrying down that same path. Reflecting on the small talk we’ve made over headlines of nationalist rallies, we understand very well what it feels like to be tiny and blithe. Simultaneously, though, we have a different, much larger perspective. We are able to observe the scene as Ann does. We see beyond the runner to everything else churning in the air.
Ann returned to the Ragdale prairie for her painting “Jill Soderberg on Her Daily Walk With Her Three Dogs.” Again, we see a trim, ponytailed woman with her back to us traveling a path through the grasses. This woman is moving more slowly. Her arms are at her sides. Two white dogs are at her feet, and the third is a short distance behind her, closer to the viewer. The prairie is red with late-day light. The sky is cloudy. Some of the trees on the horizon have already lost their leaves for the winter, while some are holding onto their fall foliage.
And again the disruptions. The trees are stamped with black marks. The clouds in the sky are dripping, overlapping splotches of gray. There is a red and white bubble on the treeline on the left side of the painting. Lines snake behind the grasses on the right side of the prairie, stretching toward the woman and her dogs.
These marks add darkness but are not threatening. Studying these paintings, you can see what a lesser skill than Ann’s might have made of them: a horror-movie scene, where a figure in pristine nature is encroached upon by wraiths and specters. You can imagine a woman walking her dogs while trailed by ghosts. Ann’s work is so much more than that flat story would be. She is showing a certain time of day in “Jill Soderberg on Her Daily Walk With Her Three Dogs”–the reddish-gold hour near sunset–and yet she uses color, shadow, and gesture to show all times of day. She is showing the woman caught in an instant and yet with a green trailing mark she shows the woman in motion on the path. With her dripping gray in the sky, Ann shows the rolling clouds, the coming evening. She shows us everything.
Because I met Ann Quinn at a political and cultural moment of revelation, I see in her Ragdale work a reminder of that single moment. That fall. Election day. The exposure of America, and of Americans, as all that we are instead of only how we wish to seem. These women jogging and walking through the meadow look so familiar to me: their ponytails, their determination, their willful disregard of the stains that are following them. They are a part of a dark and harrowing truth about the land they are moving across, as they go about their lives in the middle of chaos.
But when I try to emulate the way Ann perceives the world in her paintings–when I try to look around, outside, beyond–I understand that the complex glory of her vision is not limited in any way to Ragdale, to the American Midwest, to the United States, or to the shocking fall of 2016. That one moment is only my individual entry point into Ann’s extraordinary body of work. Ann’s vision goes past all those times and places. She has always recognized the cracks opening on the ground we walk–the exposures of the beautiful, the ugly, the familiar, the strange, the peaceful, the violent, the calm, the threatening, the confirming, the dismaying, the vicious, the beloved–whether she is painting from her childhood in East Donegal, her daily life in Dublin City, or her experiences at artist residencies around the globe.
In Ann’s painting “Father on his Journey,” she gives us her own family. A man in a jacket, winter hat, and tall boots walks in profile. He is a little hunched. His elbow is bent, his hand poised near his jacket pocket. A scraggly tree stands ahead of him. The land he is crossing is a riot of pigment. Under his feet are layer of twisting lines, as colorful as a coral reef. Behind him are leaves, thorns, branches, a curved emerald path of spurs. All around him is a purple fog. The sky is green and starlit.
And in that painting’s partner, “Mother,” a woman gathers fruit from an apple tree. Fallen apples and paint are thick on the ground. Where she’s standing looks tarry, almost sticky, with dark texture. A brown, green, and black smear of paint nearly as tall as the woman rises off the left edge of the canvas. The sky behind her is layers of orange and blue.
Over and over, Ann disrupts the simple scene that might have been by showing the eternal chaos surrounding it. The man walking through a field is wrapped in purple light; the woman under the apple tree is on exploded ground. Ann’s art insists on presenting our everyday existence in all its dynamism and ferocity. She captures the colors and textures of the ruptures around us as well as the connections we forge. Studying her body of work, I keep returning to what seems to me the purest expression of her boundless, spectacular vision: “Picture at an Exhibition.” In that painting, a white-haired woman with Velcro sneakers and a baggy jacket stands with her hands clasped behind her back. Her face is tilted up and her mouth is open. Her glasses have turned opaque from reflected light. The wall she is staring up at is veins, currents, fuchsia washes, navy marbled paint–an almost formless swirl of paint and potential. She is mouth agape, looking at not a voting booth or a news report, not a specific day or emotion, not Illinois or Ireland, but something much more enormous. She’s looking at the scope of Ann’s talent. She’s seeing the whole complicated world.
Julia Philips is a writer based in Brooklyn. Her debut novel, ‘Disappearing Earth’, will be published in summer 2019.
From Where I See The World – The Art of Ann Quinn
By Órfhlaith Foyle, 2016
Human beings are rare in these new paintings by Ann Quinn. When they do exist, they are either swallowed into a mushroom field or exist unseen in cars on the margins of a canal or plough with oxen in a surrounding sea of blue. The human also exists on the other side of the painting as the ‘You’ or the observer that stands and stares into Quinn’s work, and the artist herself who has created brilliant reflections of the world she sees and steps inside to paint.
Why do painters paint? Is it not easier to hold up a phone and take a photo preferably with a human slant? What is so strange about the natural world that when it is painted, it can seem almost alien to us? It is another world sliding parallel to ours. It is disquieting. It reeks of dead things. The sun can kill. The wind can obliterate electricity. Animals stare because they simply see another animal – you.
There is ferocity in Ann Quinn’s painted world but it is contained, held back by bracken, stone and hard-packed and frozen earth. The sun hovers black eyed and red-boiled above the eye-line of ditches or it glares white-orbed from hillsides or bakes on the back of a cow and its calf. The ferocity is potent.
Human beings do not like to be small. In her painting Meeting Place, Quinn has painted a woman on an arid seeming road. Only she and a weed exist on this road but above there a network of grey hazed mountains, their ridges delineated by snow marks, and on either side of the woman are black voids. What are they? Is she facing down her fate or welcoming the future?
A cockerel side-views the observer while it stands on a glorious ground of turquoise, amber, black, ochre-yellow and spits of white. Rooster Moment is a beautiful painting, not just for the colour, not just for its magnificent blue sky and its pink-white blur of cloud but it is the symphony of reality and nature’s mystery. The cockerel is supreme in his world. He is beautiful and the ground that is a collection of dirt, sludge, cockerel faeces, straw, leaves, stone is also beautiful. The mystery is something we cannot understand. We cannot be the cockerel but in Quinn’s painting we come close to ‘seeing’ that other animal; that animal who also observes the other.
Titles are integral to Quinn’s work. Moon-light, Neon-light, Evening Field shows a regular line of estate houses, beyond them the lights of a road, then the lights of a further town. In the foreground a stark electricity pole sticking up form scrub and bush. A moon anchors everything. The blue-black night and the rigid black of the houses’ roofs speak of the fragile aloneness of things. Despite the community of houses, there is a sense of another world watching.
Sheep on Melted Terrain, a field of cracked and melting snow and that blackballed, red-boiled sun casting the sheep shadows over the ground. As with many of Ann Quinn’s paintings, the sky is its own vled, its own terrain and in Mid Winter Morning, Quinn’s sky appears through washes of white, blue, pink and black. Beyond the paint, scratches are seen. Pockmarks and stray intuitive smudges, dribbles add to the ‘inner-workings’ of the sky. It is more than a mere blue that reflects in the world’s seas or holds ‘our’ sun.
‘Blueness’ is heightened in Quinn’s work and culminates in her painting, Ethiopian Plough. The black oxen and the men are concentrated counter-points. There is sea green in the sky and umber flashes on the seabed.
Her title painting The Place Where I Stand to Look out over this World is a brave painting. It is mostly snow-grey sky with the tip of a brambled hill showing in the foreground. Snow stretches amongst the branches, blue-white like ripped supermarket bags. The dark smudges resemble clouds in various contortions. The unseen human being is the artist. Her perspective forces our gaze into that grey sky. The falling snow and the minute bramble sprigs are marvellously detailed. Quinn is a superb painter of nature. Her colour and brush-strokes show the image of wind and the cold thick sky.
The Swan Lady feeds swans on the edge of a lake. The sky is inverted and the reflected clouds are mountainous. Swans float upwards from this parallel world, eager to take the Swan Lady’s bread. Again the human is small, and although she is the obvious focus of the painting, the deep patchwork of green, browns, reds corral the blue Swan Lady, contrasting her minuteness with the world about her.
The Mushroom Picker gives the impression that one is staring into a near sphere of green. There is such forensic detail in the painting. The sun-lit branches and the dark scrawling tension of pale blue, green-yellow, olive green turned to dark, then the yellow ground and finally the mushroom picker, only visibly human by the virtue of one arm reaching down to the ground.
It is another brave painting. A vast brilliant corral of colour and perspective from the artist’s eye, as is The Swans, a view of canal swans eddying over the dusk-coloured water. The sense of light and cool dark is rich. One can imagine the varied temperature of the water from the colours that Quinn uses. The near ice blue marginalised by both the creeping dark and the cherry-peach bright reflection of the evening sun. It speaks of the curious delight of melancholia, that mood that strikes us as we watch a day end. The car lights edge their way through the dark, and the houses keep attention while a lilac-grey-yellow sky unravels above.
This is the wonder of Ann Quinn’s gift as a painter. Her gift with colour, her perspective and her unerring eye paints a world that we are afraid to permit inside ourselves, a world that acknowledges human isolation, the demarcations of alien existences, and the natural lives of non-humans. A bull stands watch over his territory in Temporal Territory, its title gives thought to the reality of time and out-of-time, a territory that belongs to this bull-King under the blue potent hot sky, then he will be gone, snapped out of real life yet still caught forever in his temporary realm.
There is always that question ‘If a tree falls and no human is there to hear it, does the tree make a sound?’ It assumes the human’s superiority. Another way of asking the question, ‘If a tree falls and no human is there to see it, does the tree exist?’
Yes. Everything exists and Ann Quinn paints this in a way no photograph can capture, the texture of the sun, the gnarled reality of the ground and the dark places on the margins that we look at then look away, glad-full of the light, the swans, the signs of human habitation but still aware of what is on the other side, the sheep on their snow-hard ground, the oxen on the blue-dark ground, all that is aware of human existence and continues without it.
Órfhlaith Foyle is a writer based in Galway, 2016
Visual Poetry that Stretches Beyond the Horizon of the Visible
By Daniel Lipstein, 2016
In a universe of greens a lone figure of a woman is bending over the grass to pick mushrooms. The greens are a universe of mind, projecting rich contents, in the language of colours, onto a large board, with layers upon layers of pigments and mediums of oil. Sap-green-mixed-with-yellows contrast viridian-green-mixed-with-whites-and-yellows, over red, orange, turquoise, indigo, and hooker-greens, in the underpainting marks. An awesome symphony, whose deep silence transcends the significance of the mushroom-picking figure to the universal arena of metaphysical poetry.
The painting ‘The Mushroom Picker’ by Ann Quinn is an interpretation of a late summer scene at the Catalan Pyrenees Mountains village, Ferrara, an artist residency, among others she frequents. Another ‘residency’ of a more permanent nature is Dublin where she lives. ‘The Swan Lady’, is an oil painting on handmade paper, interpreting something Ann saw on the Grand Canal in Dublin, a woman feeding swans. The finished painting is a long leap from the source, ‘the reality’, that had presented the idea for the composition. A smaller scale, this is a dancing celebration of colours and oil mediums, a powerful creative pull of a skilful and experienced painter, well versed in the poetry that sends visible ‘reality’ through the visionary powers exerted by the medium of painting, to touch the essence that exists beyond the visible.
An uncompromising wild outburst of textured marks, spread on the surface, in a pattern that reflects a vision of the painter’s initially projected composition, is the foundation on which the finishing layers of pigments and glazes are built. The painter retains the intensity of such focus throughout all the stages of her work. A good example of it is the painting ‘Sheep on Melted Terrain’, where the painting painted itself through the inner logic of its compounds. It was informed by what Ann saw on the Curragh in County Kildare, and through the journey of its creation, by the poetry of the use of mediums, aiming for perfect unity between the subject matter and its surroundings’ layering of marks, something happened. The effort, the focus, the process and the talent, gave birth to an added dimension. An ineffable metaphysical entity, that exhales the essence of music out of the painting, and projects through each and every fiber of the work, the warm presence of something utterly unique, something that was created once, through an inspired and un-duplicable effort, never to be repeated, in the same time, timing, form and manner.
In the painting ‘The Place Where I Stand to Look Out Over This World’, while in potential all can be seen and known, in actuality the projected vision of the painting is an abstract-like view of a formation of a foggy sky, reminiscent of a veil behind which there is another veil. Like infinite horizons hiding and revealing one another, a repetition that charges the arena of the painting with the electricity of the possibility of a greater or a deeper vision. The painting is an interpretation of a vision from the reality of a rocky formation in the Pyrenees Mountains of Ferrara where Ann used to stand during her residency, her favourite standing place.
The ‘residency’ of all residencies that left a permanent mark on Ann’s vision is the one of her childhood on her parent’s farm in Donegal, where she also had a favourite standing place, next to the first horizon: “Our garden opened up to many fields for as far as the eye could see. Rolling hills right on up to the horizon where the land met the sky, so whenever I set my foot outside the door I was met with a vast sense of space. I remember as a young child I believed this was the entire world, before my eyes, I believed that the horizon was the edge of the earth. When I became a teenager, restlessness came over me and I used to go to my favourite spot, a water well at the top of the field. I would study the valley beneath me and see tiny cattle moving slowly in the distance. Years passed, I developed as an artist, and as I was living in the capital city. It took me a while to realise that the horizon was part of me. In due time, quite inevitably, the horizon, the strong sense of it and what it represents, began to strongly appear in my work. I traveled all over the world and moved from beyond one horizon to the other, always wanting to see what’s on the other side of the hill, what is at the other end of the horizon”. – Ann Quinn
In the visual poetry of a skilled and experienced painter, the experience of seeing many horizons translates to seeing many ends-of-the-ability-to-see, and thus her paintings become a stretching metaphor to an elevated or a transcendental kind of vision. Such maturity as a painter delivers a painting like ‘Ethiopian Plough’, where the land seems to appear as a lucid substance and the oceanic like appearance of it evaporates into sky, delineating the contours of a horizontal substance as an ambiguous possibility, thus delivering the viewer to a vertical realm that stretches beyond the horizon of the visible.
Quinn’s visual poetry is also that of forms. While seeing them in the reality from her innate ability to understand and see forms, she creates them as a painter, and then she allows them the freedom to recede and disappear through the spillage of painting mediums and pigments onto the surface, evoking thus the vitality or power where abstraction expresses itself before and after meeting the so called representational, in the painting. Such spillages appear in abundance in paintings like ‘Meeting Place’ and ‘Temporal Territory’, in ‘Sheep on Melted Terrain’, and in different ways in other paintings.
Another aspect of Quinn’s language of forms is the way she identifies her compositions in the reality, and decides their structure in her paintings. The freedom of the creative painter to express her vision through the journey of creating, destroying and recreating forms, could be thought of as a type of meditation. The successful end of such meditational journey is something equivalent to nirvana, which is an existential unity between the viewer and the thing or the apparition he or she views. While Ann achieves such unity between what she sees as initial forms, and the final appearance of her finished paintings, the way there is full of ecstatic moments. Such ecstasy is silent, subtle and very powerful. It is blatantly expressed in the painting, ‘Meeting Place’, where the painter paints herself standing in the midst of a Pyrenees mountains landscape, constructed of spilled and loose forms, almost transparent mountains, and a dancing foreground, where elements in her world and in the world of her painting meet, and where she also meets herself.
“Drawn to abstract shapes that begin to form the vision of any reality I am looking all the time, my eyes are working all the time. I see compositions forming when I am in a place that is full of potential. I am drawn to forms and I see shapes and forms in common things. Even before I developed as a full time practicing painter, I would see basic shapes and forms in what I could see in the reality, and I was also drawn to moods in landscape. It is all about capturing a moment when you witness some magic that would change in a minute, something is in the air that will last only a few seconds, you try to capture the essence of it, which is so tangible and fleeting.” – Ann Quinn
“In this exhibition there are four paintings where I painted people. In ‘Ethiopian Plough’ and in ‘The Mushroom Picker’, and ‘The Swan Lady’, there are people who interact with the land. Also in ‘Meeting Place’, where I painted myself standing in the middle of the landscape, as a painter, I interact with the land, similar to the way a farmer or a mushroom picker, or a lady feeding swans relate to nature.” –Ann Quinn
The sensitivity in Ann Quinn’s paintings to subtle changes in marks of mediums and pigments and the way each component in the painting interacts with the other, must have developed from her intense feelings towards nature, where the temporality of seasons, the different appearances of the land and sky, and the movements of animals on land and from station to station in the cycle of life and death, decide the temporal atmospheres in the world she sees. Such experiences began on the farm where she grew up, then they continued in other places she resided in and passed through. The painting ‘Temporal Territory’, for example, expresses a moment, where a bull claims his territory, someplace, on the Pyrenees Mountains. His gaze electrifies the marks of the rocky land around him, and such electricity, together with the focal point of the animal’s eyes, is the power this painting projects.
“It happened sometimes when I was a small child on the farm… and it happened last week…. again, I got a shock…. I continued to walk towards the field, where I saw a massive dead cow, the presence of death, twisted and contorted, transformed the landscape. I became breathless, the presence of the dead cow made everything stand still, time stood still, I stopped breathing for a few seconds. This affected the whole radius of the immediate landscape, and with all my power I tried to walk away from it, the presence of death was overpowering. As I walked on the feeling would not go away, the impact of the presence of death, until the cow was out of sight. Without being fully aware of it, through nature, I was connected to the cycle of life and death.” – Ann Quinn
Another example for the transference of intense sensitivity, from nature to painting, is the painting ‘Floating on the Other Side’. This painting won the K & M Evans Award at the Royal Hibernian Academy’s Annual Exhibition of 2012. It is a painting of a dead cow floating in space above the reflection of it’s body in water beneath. Ann saw the dead cow in the reality of her parent’s farm in Donegal. Her painting of the cow is a painterly-poetic expression of the phenomenon of death, the duality of life and death, and the possible duality of two sides to life and death, earthly and ethereal, or spiritual. The other side of the veil, or the other dimension beyond the horizontal horizon, hints at the potential or at the possibility of making the invisible visible, the intangible tangible. In this exhibition, ‘The Place where I Stand to Look out over this World’, the presence of the invisible, or the ephemeral, is as potent as it was in previous exhibitions by Ann Quinn, though now perhaps, it is more subtle, and more coherently cohesive in the minute fabrics of each painting.
Daniel Lipstein is a visual artist based in Co. Kildare, 2016
The Paintings of Ann Quinn – An appreciation
By Órfhlaith Foyle, 2015
‘On the hills a million people,
A million sparrows, nest,
Like a confused migration
That’s had to light and rest,
Building its nests, or houses
Out of nothing at all, or air.
You’d think a breath would end them,
They perch so lightly there.
But they cling on and spread like lichen
And people come and come.
There’s a hill called The Chicken
And one called Catacomb;
There’s the hill of Kerosene,
And the hill of Skeleton,
The hill of Astonishment,
And the hill of Babylon.’
From ‘The Burglar of Babylon’ by Elizabeth Bishop
For me, Ann Quinn’s hill paintings remind me of the rhythm of an Elizabeth Bishop’s poem ‘The Burglar of Babylon’ – the carousel of reflections and the image of lives hidden behind blazes of light.
In the painting titled City Cow. A cow stands, braced like a king surveying the horizon. Underneath his hooves is a hill of zigzagging light, as if a city is rumbling and living there. It may be nothing more than the last silvers of daylight on cow dung or plastic or stone, but the paint lights up the reflection of life inside and on that hill. A Babylon of light. A Catacomb of life.
The cow is repeated in another painting Subtle Correspondence, standing now on a hill that shows only its own skeleton of rock and ice-packed earth. A swan drifts by on the bottom of the painting. The ‘correspondence’ is solitary. Each facing its own way.
But they cling on and spread like lichen
And people come and come.
Ann Quinn’s work show the crack of light in the world; the bone colour edge of the sky, and the apparitions of paint marks lie above seemingly unsettled gravestones in Lucid Vapour, Expanding the Spirit to the Beyond.
There is a sense of Andrew Wyeth in Ann Quinn’s work. A similar appreciation of how spare and beautiful life is; how the carcass of an animal frozen in snow shows us how we will one day lie, and we can only stare at the uneasy inevitability of death.
Also there is the sense of humans invading the land Ann Quinn paints. They roost at the margins or build their houses inside the flanks of mountains as in Chak Chak, but the mountain curves around the yellow and brown houses in near subsumption, and the effect draws your eye in to that main yellow house, and you wonder how it must be to live under such enormity.
There is the hill of Kerosene,
And the hill of Skeleton,
Self-Portrait is remarkable for its colour, its stare and its edge. I am particularly affected by the shading beneath the cheekbone and I don’t know why.
There is something close to apocalyptic in The Burn Fields, not in a ruinous sense but in a timeless one. It is strong and inevitable the way apocalypses are; but it is all the more beautiful for that.
My Father’s Cows making their Way back down to the Burn Fields is a line of cows moving along the perimeter of fields – a limbo of time, passing yet repeating.
The titles that Ann Quinn gives her work act as the first lines to a story or a mystery. Lunacy is Safely a Field Away or so it seems, because the tree is a mass of skeleton branches and the small red lights beneath it are the tiny hot lives of human habitation.
Night Swim reminds me of Harry Clarke and Aubrey Beardsley, and the Children of Lir. The arch and stretch of the swans as they drift and feed and also the glimpse of the swan that has almost left the painting; the night sky drenching the lake water with its own colour; the bright bodies of the swans catching golden moonlight the way a church glass catches sun in colour.
In the painting Two women talking under a Tree the women are part of the growth around them. A plant arches at their conversation. A tree’s leaves are drawn with such varied colour of sugar pink, red, orange and rotting brown, and in the middle of the scene, there is a delicate blue-grey green gleam of day, giving the whole painting a sense of its own world.
Out of nothing at all, or air,
You think a breath would end them.
They perch so lightly there.
There is such a condensation of light and also a distillation of light in Ann Quinn’s paintings; a sensation of ‘versts’ travelled in her landscapes, a feeling of falling into her work from a height, and an aloneness that confronts you. You see the world that she creates from what she sees and feels. Hills and mountains, bare and ridged or verdant and azure, while people are drawn with their edges intact and animals move in and out of time.
Her work is full of muscle, acidity and beauty.
Órfhlaith Foyle is a writer based in Galway, August 2013