Art in Focus: ‘Don’t Be Afraid’ by Ann Quinn

Quinn’s luminous paintings reveal the extraordinary in the everyday

What is it?

Don't be Afraid is an oil painting by Ann Quinn. In it, a woman in athletic gear runs along a woodland path as early morning mist clears. We see her receding into the distance or perhaps, allegorically, into the unknown. It is probably relevant that the title is a translation of Seamus Heaney's last text to his wife, Marie: noli timere. His poetry is close to the spirit of Quinn's work.

How was it done?

Quinn usually develops her paintings using her own photographs as references. Not that a painting derives from any one photograph. Many can feed into a single painting. She is after something intangible, something not especially visible in a photographic image: an atmosphere generated at and by a particular place and time, combined with her own sensibility. What we see in a painting begins for her with a moment of abstraction, a flux that might resolve in any number of ways. It is perhaps surprising that the images that emerge from this flux are so definite, precise and detailed.

Where can I see it?

Don't Be Afraid is one of the paintings in Quinn's exhibition, The Human Presence, at the Taylor Galleries, 16 Kildare St, Dublin (taylorgalleries.ie), until September 22nd.

Is it a typical work by the artist?

Typical enough, though Quinn’s works often startle with the precise singularity of their vision. And, exceptionally, as the title of her show suggests, the human presence is a constant in her new work, whereas previously her landscapes were more likely to be free of people.

From a rural, farming background in Co Donegal, as a child she loved drawing and had a general aspiration to be an artist. Graduating from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) in 2000, it was not entirely clear to her how that would work, in terms of making a living. She went full-time at her part-time cleaning job at a psychiatric hospital. A phonecall from a friend prompted her to take up a studio space and she quit her job and devoted herself to painting. As her work began to sell, she travelled she says, in “South East Asia, Central America, Iran, East Africa, India and Europe”. All have fed into her work but it is fair to say that what seems to count is not so much location as the quality of her concentration.

Quinn has recently resettled in Co Donegal and the works in the exhibition were painted in her new studio there. Her immediate surroundings feature, as does Dublin, where she was based for about 20 years, and the prairie adjacent to the Ragdale Foundation in Illinois where she spent an autumn residency in 2016. Some of the figures we see in the paintings are close to her (her mother, her father, perhaps herself), others are strangers. In each case, though, something about the individual presence ties the picture together for her.

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