Outstanding opening William Quinn’s “European Odyssey”

By Alec Clayton on August 25, 2010. Weekly Volcano.

Mavi Contemporary Art is Tacoma’s newest gallery. They opened last week (in the beautifully remodeled building that was for so long home to Two Vaults Gallery) with an outstanding exhibition of paintings and sculptures by William Quinn.

Little known in Tacoma, Quinn has long been successful nationally and even internationally. He has lived and worked in Europe, taught at Washington University in St. Louis and has shown his work in such prestigious institutions as the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City, St. Louis Museum and the High Museum in Atlanta.

Such major recognition doesn’t necessarily mean an artist is good, but believe me, this guy can paint.

His show, European Odyssey, features both paintings and sculptures.

The paintings are abstract with vaguely figurative organic shapes in starkly contrasting colors floating on or seen through open space (the backgrounds are mostly white or black). His balance of shapes in space is dramatic, and his gestural surface markings range from the most delicate to the most bombastic, with an intermingling of flat, opaque shapes, lovely transparencies and lines made by drawing into the wet paint to reveal other colors painted beneath. I see a lot of Robert Motherwell influence in these paintings – especially the ones that use strong black and white contrasts – and hints of Juan Miro.

The Miro look is most evident in the painting used on the show invitation, A Summer Day in St. Tropez. Strong black, blue and yellow forms can be seen in a kind of organic window at top. Most of the surface is white with yellow accents, and near the bottom is a reclining figure that looks like a harlequin with his head cropped by the left edge of the canvas. This is abstract painting at its best.

Also borrowing from the harlequin theme is a tall totemic statue in carved and painted redwood called Harlequiness. The beauty in this is the surface decoration of subtle textures and transparencies, and a very smooth line made with what appears to be graphite.

All of the sculptures in this show are thin figures that look like a cross between totem poles and Alberto Giacometti’s figures. The forms of his sculptures are not particularly interesting or unique, but the surfaces are fabulous; they are approached as painting in three dimensions.

One of my favorite paintings is Nuits du Sud, a dramatically dark painting with an imposing figure standing like an abstract warrior under a red moon in a black night. Stories, figures, landscapes and cityscapes are hinted at but never made explicit in these paintings. Their real strength is in Quinn’s use of visual elements.

European Odyssey

Through Sept. 12, 1-8 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Mavi Contemporary Art, 502 Sixth Ave., Tacoma