Tom Quinn is one of 5 professional artists that will be joining us for our Pro-Am Paint off this Saturday the 20th. What is a Pro-Am Paint off? 5 teams of one pro and one teen each, paired up to do a live painting that must be done by the end of the day. The paintings will be sold after the event with proceeds going towards our upcoming Teen Mentor Program.
Tom is something of a Spokane icon having done murals, illustrations and fine art in this area for decades. Most notably you may recognize his work from the mural at the corner of Sprague and Division. This mural was originally painted by Tom back in 1999 when he was 33 years old. He was asked to repaint the mural 11 years later and is what you will find on the corner today.
Sometimes Tom's work is described as "surreal" but her prefers "nonsense." "...like something from Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll. Sometimes my images are impossible, but more often they're simply absurd. I find that a little absurdity always makes a picture less ordinary and less familiar. I like to work with hard edges and bright colors, taking the ordinary out of context, and turning the familiar into the strange."
In his early twenties, Tom became attracted to commercial and editorial illustration, and went to an art school in Seattle with the aim of becoming an illustrator. "I wanted to work like some of my favorite illustrators at the time, who worked in an intentionally primitive but meticulous technique and subject matter."
In the early years Tom based most of his work of off of images from his imagination or photos that he had found. After buying a professional quality camera he began using photography as a tool to help him depict people, animals, and objects accurately. Most recently he has been moving away from a dependence on photography and has taken on the challenge of creating more natural objects like clouds, trees, and rocks. "I find them much more difficult than mechanical objects like buildings and cars, and even people and animals, because they call for the skills of abstract design that I’m still trying to cultivate." He also enjoys the opportunity to paint nudes and women in historic costumes as well as flowers.
For the past 9 years or so Tom has been inspired by literary themes that the The Spokane Art School has had and you will find that theme in many of his pieces. He has done paintings for "The Wizard of Oz" "Alice in Wonderland,” “Peter Pan,” “On the Road,” and “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.”
Do you have a favorite piece of artwork that you’ve created?
So far, I think the most successful picture I’ve done is “For You,” a closeup of a young woman in darkness, lit by a luminescent yellow rose in her hand. It’s an unusual picture for me, because it’s a nearly symmetrical composition and it’s in the format of a portrait but it’s not a portrait. I always think of it as the one painting where everything just clicked right into place.
Professionally, what’s your goal or is there a dream project that you would like to create?
For the last two years I’ve been working on a large painting that I’ve wanted to do since the 1990s. It’s one of the most ambitious paintings I’ve ever done. Because it’s so large — about four and a half feet high and wide — I expect to have some trouble finding a buyer. I have to put a high price on it, for obvious reasons. It has to be bought by someone who has a lot of wall space. And it has to be bought by someone who wants a large painting of a full-frontal female nude. But I got tired of putting it off, and I finally decided to go for it. I’d rather regret painting it than NOT painting it.
What role does the artist have in society?
Art is like religion and sports: it provides a lot of fulfillment to those who enjoy it, but it’s not for everybody and I wouldn’t want it to be. The best art isn’t just something you want to look at but something you want to think about, talk about, read about, maybe even write about. Artists can’t end war, poverty, and injustice with their work. That shouldn’t stop them from trying, but it doesn’t mean they’re a failure if they don’t. If they just produce something that you or I would rather look at than a blank white wall, they are doing their bit.
What advice would you offer to young emerging artists?
Don’t expect to support yourself solely by noncommissioned artwork. It can happen, but it’s not something you can count on. Even if you do make some good sales one year, you may not make any at all the next year. If you have a fine arts degree, get a teaching certificate. The most reliable source of income for professional artists is teaching. Always look for opportunities to teach. If you’re going to work some other day job, try to find one in an art gallery or an at supply store. You have to spend a lot of money on art supplies. It doesn’t leave you much to spare. You need to pay for business cards and a website, but beyond that, watch what you spend your own money on. Don’t let any huckster try to get you to “invest” in success by spending money on special websites or giclée reproductions. If someone else is willing to take that financial risk, then fine, but don’t take it yourself. And NEVER pay galleries to show your work. Artists never sales for galleries like that. Don’t squander your time, either. You need your time to create your work, do your day job, and simply have a life. You may need to apply for grants and residencies and juried shows. You need to send your website to galleries. But don’t let anyone tell you to “invest” your time in self-promotion schemes and publicity stunts. You are NOT responsible for promoting your work. Most importantly of all, do the artwork you really WANT to do. Don’t try to guess what people are buying this year and “give the people who they want.” That’s for toy companies. Give the people what YOU want them to want.
Where else can people find your work?
Website - www.quinntheartist.com
Upcoming Shows - February at Iron Goat Brewery
Stop by Tsuga Northwest Arts this Saturday the 20th and see the work of Tom Quinn on display in our gallery in addition to enjoying our Live Paint Off Event.