The Eye of the Storm, Ann Quinn charts the development of her Painting practice, Visual Artists Ireland News Sheet, May-June 2014

In the summer of 2000, I graduated from the National College of Art and Design with a degree in Painting at the age of 23. During my first few years at NCAD I lived mainly in Dublin, learning to survive in an urban environment after coming from a rural farming background in Donegal. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do after leaving art college, despite the fact that I’d had a sell out degree show. I always wanted to be an artist and to see the world outside the small green valley where I grew up, but it seemed that my aspirations were unfocused. I took up, in a full-time capacity, my hitherto part-time job as a cleaner in a psychiatric hospital in the city.

I remember long hours spent trying to take charge of the floor cleaning machine’s buffer as it spun furiously out of control while I shined the already squeaky-clean corridors. There was the daily pointlessness of cleaning toilets and scrubbing already glittering surfaces amongst the noise and havoc of the wards. My existence was a permanent re-run of a scene from One flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. During that period I felt low, as if I was criminally neglecting an essential part of who I really was.

After many months of what in retrospect seems to have been a kind of a glorious degradation, I got a phone call one day from a fellow graduate and great friend, Gillian Lawler, urging me to join her in a studio she had just found – there was a space going beside her and she thought of me. I said yes and began painting again on my days off from the long corridors of insanity.

One hot sunny afternoon a few weeks after moving into Gillian’s studio, I threw off my ‘Calvary uniform’ and marched out of the psychiatric hospital during the middle of my shift. I had no plan for what I should do next. The following day, as if according to some ordained and invisible script, a neighbour knocked on my door looking for an art teacher. The next day I was employed as a part-time teacher of art and now 14 years later I have continued to earn my living this way.

After I joined the studio with Gillian there followed an incubation period of seven years when I painted quietly and continuously, slowly maturing and developing my own practice as a painter. I didn’t understand much about the art world but kept my head down and painted. My work slowly started to be noticed by galleries in Dublin and across the country. As I became more and more focused, opportunities increased; doors opened, just as they had in the beginning with the studio and the teaching.

I have never really had any career-orientated ambition in my journey as a painter, though I have a burning desire to push myself and do the very best work. The art world can sometimes be very confusing and distracting, but I have always followed a philosophy: to keep my eyes only on making strong work. The rest will take care of itself, like focusing on the eye of the storm.

From 2002 – 2006 I got to live my dream of traveling the world. With the money saved from sales of my work I traveled throughout South East Asia, Central America, Iran, East Africa, India and Europe. At the time I saw it as an investment in my work and this proved true. Certain places held a particular resonance: some landscapes and atmospheres in Iran, also places in Spain. Years after visiting Iran I am still making work influenced by my time there, such as recent works Impression of Isfahan, Central Iran and Bridge to Armenia. This urge to see new places developed into a necessity for artist residencies.

Every piece of work I have made is based on a specific place I have spent time in. My paintings are about places, but in fact I am going for the atmosphere. I use places in order to instil an atmosphere; this is the main element that I go for. It is the same atmosphere that appears in works of literature and in films. This is the reason why I cherish literature, films and paintings so much; it is the essence of the book, the film or artwork that I seek out.

Artist residencies are a vital part of my work practice; they enrich me with an endless source of research material for future projects. Residencies provide the space and time away from the routine of my daily existence to fully open up the creative mind. I have undertaken many artist residencies over the years, including: the Fundacion Valpairoso, Almeria, Spain in 2008; the Centre Art I Natura in the Pyrenees, Catalonia in 2010; a three month artist residency at Glenveagh National Park, Donegal in 2007; and most other artist residencies in Ireland. I recently finished a three-week artist residency at the VCCA, Virginia, US in April 2014.

I have been earning my living for the past 12 years working as an arts facilitator, teaching art to older people (aged 67 – 101) in a few nursing homes and day care centres in Dublin. This has made me very diciplined with my time and has taken me out of the insular world of the studio. Working alongside healthcare assistants and nurses – these people, I believe, are the highest spirits in Dublin – I continuously learn from their unassuming natures, and from their selflessness in caring for the most vulnerable. Over the years I have met many colourful characters from old Dublin in the twilight of their lives and these memories have stayed with me. I feel privileged to have introduced to them a passion for painting, which many didn’t know that they possessed. I have attended several funerals of the patients where a painting of theirs was displayed on the coffin by their relatives, who thanked me for bringing happiness into the person’s last years. This has been a most rewarding way of life.

My work starts with abstraction; often, I don’t plan what the outcome of what a painting will be. I enjoy the power of abstraction, whereby the vision of the painting’s particulars can be lurking in the background – a kind of prophesy of a more tangible outcome. Using my own photographs as a source material I enjoy going back to the moments when I took the photographs and investigating the richness of those visions. The power of my dreams and inner visions also seeps into the activity of painting and the outcomes are often quite unexpected. It can take me up to three years to finish a painting; sometimes I leave works aside to return to years later.

Since 2012 I have been exhibiting my work at the Taylor Galleries in Dublin. I had a solo exhibition at the gallery in June 2013 – ‘Subtle Correspondence’ – the ninth solo exhibition of my career. Taylor Galleries was established the same year I was born, in 1978. I feel very privileged to work with such high caliber gallerists. They understand the scope of what I am doing and where I am going in terms of the development of my practice as a painter.

Ann Quinn