Whether you see the collage-like portraits as monstrous, grotesque, despairingly honest or starkly compelling, there’s no doubt that Nathaniel Mary Quinn’s Split Face forces viewers to reflect on what makes up identity—the split selves within each of us that are pieced together to make the whole. On display at Museo Stefano Bardini and Museo Novecento until March 11, curated by Sergio Risaliti and Stefania Rispoli, the composite paintings dialogue with the Renaissance works at the Bardini, challenging the canon of beauty.
15 works are displayed at the Stefano Bardini Museum alongside the likes of Donatello, Della Robbia and Carlo Levi, with several of the Chicago-born artist’s works created specifically for this exhibition in direct response to Florentine Renaissance portraits and Italian 20th century masters, stitching together the past and the present. Co-curator Sergio Risaliti commented, “Quinn treads the path blazed by the great 20th century masters, including Picasso and Francis Bacon…formulating an anti-academic language that’s both original and unsettling. His arrival into Florence is like that of a boxer into the Botticelli room at the Uffizi: a challenge to the canons of Renaissance beauty, as was that of Picasso’s cubist faces or Bacon’s swollen, boneless figures”.
Meticulous hyperrealist details contrast with cartoon-like qualities, combined with cubist and surrealist aspects to simultaneously disorient and intrigue viewers. Faces seem to be sliced up and puzzled back together, re-configuring the person portrayed. With references to his personal and familial history, the artist blends people and events close to him with images from magazines, comics or photographs, questioning how we construct and represent our lives and the lives of others.
Nathaniel Mary Quinn elaborates, “I like to think that my work reflects uninhibited harmonious diversity—at times fluid and seamless, at times grotesque and discordant—but, surely, an embrace of reality as it is and the pursuit of what is possible. Rather than being a ‘collage’ mentality, it’s an ‘expressionist cubism’ mentality, where one is able to embrace the rainbow-like spectrum of humanity, and, as such, reflect our internalized worlds as a people”.
Present at the press conference, the artist’s oratory abilities enthralled those present, with elaborations into his process colouring our experience of his works: “My paintings appear to be collages, but they’re not traditional collage when you take images from external sources and you put them all onto the same plane, arranging them however you choose to. In my paintings, everything is done on the same plane, but they appear to be a collage of different sources, and that is my way of expressing identity because people are a composite of many different parts, and each part is very well articulated, such as your belief systems, your values, your convictions, your sense of failure or achievement, and so forth. We just present ourselves as a seamless identity, but within you, you’re not seamless at all, you’re crudely made and crudely put together. But that’s the beautiful thing about life, because you learn to embrace the good and the bad of who you are. Although there are parts of us that don’t seem to fit, we have to make them fit, because that’s your life, and that’s your history…I try to paint the essence of a person. When you first meet somebody, you are initially attracted to how they look, but that lasts for three minutes. From then on, you go by how you feel, so I’m not concerned about painting to see if it looks like you, I want to see if it feels like you.”
Museo Stefano Bardini is open from 11am to 5pm, Fri, Sat, Sun and Mon.
Museo Novecento can be visited everyday except Thursday, from 11am to 8pm.