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Thomas Quinn

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Biography

Born in Hawaii in1938, Thomas Quinn considers himself a regional painter, drawing his subjects from the area associated both with his childhood and his artistic maturity: northern California’s Marin County.  The two primary directions of Quinn’s life seem to have been set early.  His interest in the outdoors and wildlife began in childhood when he received Luis Agassiz Fuertes’ book Wild Animals of North America as a gift, while a passion for art and illustration came from a Howard Pyle book.  His education led him to California’s College of Design in Los Angeles, where he graduated with distinction and received a Bachelor’s of Professional Art, and then to a successful career as an illustrator on the east coast.  Quinn illustrated for periodicals like Saturday Evening Post, Reader’s Digest, Field & Stream, even Car & Driver before his career was interrupted in 1966 by a near-fatal liver disease.  During a long recovery period, Quinn began painting wildlife with a pair of greater Canada geese who lived on the pond at his Connecticut home. Upon his recovery, Quinn moved with his wife Jeri Nichols Quinn (also a noted artist) and their son back to Marin County, settling in Point Reyes Station, California.  Quinn moved away from illustration work over the next few years, becoming a full-time artist in 1974.

Evocative and ethereal, Quinn’s work is characterized by a careful selection of details.  Understated, muted layers of color and transparent washes are counterpointed with sharp stabs of color.  These capture the eye, usually in service to a sense of drama or humor at the image’s conceptual center – prey in the talons of a raptor, for example – or a distinctive element in an animal subject, such as the striking gold of an owl’s eyes.  Both influenced by and reminiscent of Chinese and Japanese art, Quinn’s work has been described as distinctive, minimalist, and subscribing to the school of “less is more.”  Quinn makes effective use of undeveloped space – practically an earmark of the Thomas Quinn aesthetic.  His subtle use of color, the elegance of his compositions, and his finely-tuned sense of nuance give his paintings an ethereal quality.  This quality moves his subjects to the realm of the spiritual, returning nature to some former, half-remembered state – that which is strange, separate from the world most of us inhabit.  It is an approach perfectly suited to the evanescent quality of Quinn’s watercolors.

To me, painting, veracity, and nature are still about what is represented but also about what is implied or left unsaid.  As a treatment of two-dimensional space, unadorned areas may be measured as a rest for the eye.

In representational animal art, these open areas may imply a place, habitat, or landscape, where by whim, necessity, or imagination a creature might choose to move or escape.  As magical spaces, these places may hold more than just relief and understatement—perhaps there’s hidden geometry, silence, vulnerability, or solitude; maybe it’s a place of nonsense, departure, enigma, mystery, or promise where nothingness is the value most desired.  Negative space is a place that is not about nothing.

                                                         Thomas Quinn, Essay on Negative Space, 1994

Quinn’s paintings have been shown in numerous exhibitions, including shows held at the Field Museum in Chicago, Illinois, the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, and the New York Museum of Natural History.  Quinn has also been a regular participant, and Gold Medal winner for watercolor, in both the Prix de West invitational exhibition at the National Cowboy Hall of Fame and Western Heritage Museum. Additionally, Quinn was honored Woodson as Master Wildlife Artist in 1998 at the Woodson Art Museum’s annual Birds in Art show. 

Quinn’s works can be found in the collections of the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson, WyomingQuinn, who has been raising and training retrievers since the early 1970s, is also the author of The Working Retrievers (1983), considered a definitive treatment of the subject.

A lavishly produced book The Art of Thomas Quinn containing the paintings and poetry of the artist was published in 2010.

Publications