Words fill in the gaps

25 January 2010

Jonathan Evens on the Symbolism of Lorenzo Quinn’s sculptures


LORENZO QUINN is a sculptor whose work brings into focus many of the quirks that characterise con­temporary art.

He is a popular and successful artist, having garnered a plentiful supply of private and public com­missions. His work, which is often religious, demonstrates that it is possible to “do God” as an artist and still command high prices.

A sincere Symbolic Realist, Quinn has been praised as helping human­ity “to evolve a little further through tolerance, understanding and har­mony”, and is inspired by the great masters such as Michelangelo, Ber­nini, Carpeaux, and Rodin.

None of the above endears him to contemporary critics, who prefer their art to be ironic and inspired by Duchamp. Quinn responds by saying that it is the viewer who interests him, not the art critic, and his popu­lar success enables him to ignore or scorn critical opinion. “Equilibrium”, an exhibition of new and monu­mental works, provides an oppor­tunity to assess both the popu­list and critical responses to Quinn’s art.

Quinn’s art is both attractive and accessible. He works primarily in aluminium, bronze, or stainless steel, often combined with granite or marble, and, as a result, his works shine, shimmer, and gleam. His prin­cipal image is the human form (most often, hands) combined with circles, globes, or ovoids.

Quinn’s sculptures are comple­mented by, and indeed result from, his writings, which are displayed alongside the works. Therefore, if the visual image seems opaque, the writings may provide a means of ac­cessing the sculpture’s symbolism and emotion.

One criticism of Symbolism generally is that it is a literary art. Quinn’s work seems particularly sus­ceptible to this charge. Choices, for example, depicts a male figure held by several linked arms within a rock­ing semi-circle. The work is, there­fore, a literal depiction of our human sense of dilemma at being pulled in opposing directions at the same time, and once we have read this meaning from the image there seems to be little more that the work, for all its attraction and technical skill, has to disclose.

This criticism can be applied to others of Quinn’s images. Hand of God, which features a male figure, somewhat akin to Rodin’s The Thinker, held by an enormous hand, is a visual representation of the final part of the Footprints poem. Give & Take III, on public display in Berk­eley Square, is an incomplete circle ending in a fist and an open hand; only when the fist is opened to give or take will the circle be complete and whole.

Beyond these readings, the works have little more to reveal; their imagery is accessible, but lacking in mystery or depth. This critique is not uniquely applicable to Quinn’s form of symbolism, but may also be equally applied to some conceptual artworks, which, once their concept has been grasped, have no further impact or import.

One work of Quinn’s which seems to move beyond this criticism is Force of Nature II, in which a female figure symbolising Mother Nature forcefully pulls the globe towards herself while blinded by a robe blown equally forcefully against her. Are we opposing nature or nature us? Is nature a guiding or random force? This work opens out into questions rather than being closed down by statements.

Ultimately, Quinn’s work reminds me most of Britain’s greatest popular Symbolist, the sculptor and painter G. F. Watts. Watts also produced work that is accessible, attractive, adept technically, and inspired by the Masters. The verdict of history, however, is likely to be, for Quinn as for Watts, that they had the form but not quite the substance of the Masters.

“Equilibrium” is at Halcyon Gallery, 24 Bruton Street, London W1, until 31 January. Phone 020 7659 7640.


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