Collage is always born upon an undercurrent of violence; no matter the nature of the dismantling—be it surgical or savage—the end result is without fail an image sutured together from the destruction of others, a Frankenstein’s monster of thoughts, feelings, ideas and icons made melange, a mass grave of optics. That Nathaniel Mary Quinn manages to maintain this spiritual quality without using a single scrap—literally!—of the technique is a technical triumph which alone would make this show worth seeing. Quinn’s artificial media-mimesis perfectly mirrors that of the collagist, but wherein they are Victor Frankenstein, Quinn is more akin to the Messiah; out of the bread and fish of his own vision, skill and experience comes a series of portraits disfigured from a seeming legion of images, a phantom myriad translating the violence of the collagist’s rending with the artist’s singular ipseity contained in each separate “piece.”
There are snippets of “The Girl with a Pearl Earring;” faux-clippings of abstract patterns; dots, dashes and stripes; whimsical floral prints; Napoleonic hats, ears and breasts and lips. The violence of it all seems key; Quinn’s upbringing in the Robert Taylor Homes, replete with poverty, desertion and, one feverishly desires, glimmers of hope demonstrated to him both the monstrous cruelty and stubborn pulchritude of human existence, which even those who have never set foot in public housing can feel emanating like dark tentacles from his figures. “Class of 92” depicts a grotesque Argus wearing a mortarboard like a crown, while “The Making of Super Nigga,” with its referenced superheroes’ all-powerful sigil on the breast, a hood covering the face, an NYPD cap on the head, and a prominent dick flanked by a gorilla hand and a handgun, is the manifest amalgamation of white fears and black societal pressures; the superhero returns again in “Strong Arm,” wherein Captain America’s scaled arm and gauntlet, red as blood, is easily discernible. Each of Quinn’s portraits is beautifully distorted, seemingly colonial but in actuality whole, and all made ugly and vital by this illusion of plenty. (B. David Zarley)
Through October 24 at Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 118 North Peoria
Elliot J. Reichert is a Chicago-based curator, critic, and editor. He is a currently Curator of Contemporary Art at the Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana Unversity, and Hatch Projects Curatorial Resident at the Chicago Artist Coalition. Formerly, he was Art Editor of Newcity and Assistant Curator at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University. His writing has been published in The Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of Visual Culture, and Newcity.