Colleen Quinn, whose politically-themed paintings (portraits of current political figures) are currently on display at Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., through Nov. 15, wanted to be an …
Colleen Quinn, whose politically-themed paintings (portraits of current political figures) are currently on display at Gravers Lane Gallery, 8405 Germantown Ave., through Nov. 15, wanted to be an artist from a very young age in Germantown, where she still lives.
“My mother carted my sister and me down to South Philly every Saturday to take her to Settlement Music School (she's an opera singer) and me to Fleisher Art Memorial. That started when I was about 8,” said Quinn, who is now 50.
A graduate of the Creative and Performing Arts High School and the University of the Arts in 2002 as a sculptor with an Art Therapy minor, Quinn quickly discovered that the stereotype of the starving artist who must take low-paid day jobs to make ends meet is not fake news.
“I did restaurant work for a while; then I got involved in the standardized patient world for many years. A big part of maintaining my main job as an artist is to figure out how and how much to work other gigs to keep going financially and still leave me time to do my work. Any artist will tell you it's a really difficult balance.”
Why has Quinn's recent work, like what is on exhibit at Gravers Lane Gallery, become more political? “I think the real question is, how could it not?” she replied. “This administration has been an existential threat to my freedom and well-being as well as the freedom and well-being of all my friends and family members for the last four years. How could I not use everything in my arsenal to respond to that? I am not neutral. I use my painting to shine a light on things that I find disturbing.”
How has the pandemic affected Quinn's life? “Well, probably no differently than anyone else. Being a committed 'lib-tard,' I do actually believe in science, so I have been social distancing and wearing masks. I miss going out to eat and seeing friends, although I do appreciate our ability to connect online. It has also simplified my wardrobe considerably. I need maybe three pairs of shoes now. It has been good for my art, for sure. I have a studio in my home, so I have probably clocked more hours in the studio since March and, of course, no end of subject matter.”
Quinn's uncle, Jim Quinn, a highly regarded author, freelance writer and former restaurant columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer who died recently, gave Colleen advice she has never forgotten about being a successful writer/artist. “He said the difference between successful and unsuccessful writers is that successful writers write. Seems so simple, but when you're actually doing it, you realize how much easier it is not to write than to write. Same goes for painting or sculpting or whatever your art form is. Success comes to those who actually do the thing.”
What is the hardest thing Colleen ever had to do? “It depends a lot, if not entirely, on my attitude at the time I'm going through it. Being an artist throughout one's life has its challenges, but not being an artist seems worse somehow. I've had cancer twice, and that was pretty hard, but I was surrounded by so much love that I actually felt incredibly blessed at the time.
“My father had Alzheimer's disease and eventually died of pneumonia. That process was excruciating at times, but he was brave about it. Imagine knowing that you have a deteriorating brain; his courage and fascination with it taught me an enormous amount. He had his bad times, of course, but that's all part of the richness of life.
“Breathing through the tough stuff and finding compassion in yourself feels like the big lesson we're meant to be learning here … My father had a reverence for fine art, good music, good theater, good poetry, prose and fiction and a love of science and math, puzzles, riddles and games of all kinds.”
If Colleen could meet and spend time with anyone on earth, living or dead, who would it be and why? “I would love a gathering of all my ancestors. I can picture them all sitting in a circle around the fire sharing their fun stories, trials and lessons.”
For more information, visit colleenquinnart.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org