“Eeeeeeee…” I can’t help but read out loud the string of Es embedded in the surface of “Welcome Home,” a collage print on view in Justin Quinn’s contribution to the 2019 McKnight Printmaking Fellowship Exhibition at Highpoint Center for Printmaking. Cut and recessed into the surface of a grey print with a meandering black line, several collage fragments lay flat. At a distance, “Welcome Home” has an imagistic uniformity, but up close, you can see the edges between things, the liminal spaces where a knife drew lines of negation. In one collage fragment, “abracadabra” becomes “stupid;” in another, illegible symbols in a gothic font repeat a horizontal line. Several collage pieces contain colorful designs, the largest an orange and pink wood grain gradient. But the E repeats the most. “Eeeeeeee…” I make the slow, screeching sound soft enough to feel the breath move passed my lips, but silent enough so that the gallery attendants don’t think I’m crazy. Beautiful for the material poetics of its surface, this work transcends image in its ability to conjure sound, the vibrations in my throat and nasal cavity: “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee…”
Both times I’ve visited Quinn’s exhibition, this same corner has drawn me to it immediately. “Welcome Home” hangs to the right, while on the left, a collage relief made from cut up album covers extends the poetics of materiality. At the edges of this print, aptly titled “The Edge of Reality (Nature),” clusters and layers of black and white irregular rectangles, rise in relief, framing large quadrilateral shapes at the sunken center. Here and elsewhere, Quinn’s method of layering fragments of marks calls to mind unlabeled and enigmatic maps of archaeological dig sites, combining topographical layering with the footprint of ancient architectural foundations. Even as Quinn utilizes a contemporary lexicon of media and technique, his mark making reaches back to the earliest moments of our species on Earth, imbuing his abstractions with the drag of time.
The sculptural potential of the print, initiated in the two works above, is further explored through “Want to Just Walk,” a large lithograph stone, unprinted but with grease stick applied, overflowing a much smaller plinth underneath. The two dimensional printing surface is composed of rectangular squiggle shapes. This maze of rectangular shapes circling the center almost feels like a collection of redactions, text obliterated. But through the material density of the stone, I begin to see the marks as a floor plan for a dungeon. The sculpture-print becomes an oubliette: in English, a secret dungeon accessible by trap door, etymologically from the French, oublier, to forget, poetically a dungeon of forgetting. This kind of composition through redaction repeats throughout the exhibition in different zig zags and rectangles implying forgotten words and paragraphs. Symbols and meanings are lost with time, but the simplicity of a mark can still knock the wind out of you 20,000 years later.
On a column between two windows, hung about 7 feet up, another collage relief, “Fourth Good Luck, You’re Going to Need It,” hangs like an icon of madness keeping watch over the room. Repeating Es, abracadabras, and other text fragments curve in circular, overlapping strips. Through this circularity, I begin to contemplate the clock. Like the icon, a clock is hung in the most visible space in a room, high up on the wall. The chaos of repeating text fragments and sounds moving in arcs around the composition, lend to time a materiality that seems as odds with reason. Time, perhaps, can only be felt, never understood.
Every work here feels like a nonverbal incantation, transforming found materials into abstract spells. Magick need not be seen as supernatural. A recent study proposed that Dark Matter does not exist, but rather what we measure as Dark Matter is the mass of information. Information is physical—ideas are real. Every word we utter becomes a mark on the world. Quinn’s exhibition is a reminder that art is alchemy, that the marks on a canvas can become marks in our souls.
The McKnight Printmaking Fellowship Exhibition is on view at Highpoint Center for Printmaking until February 23rd.
A beautiful relationship exists between Quinn’s exhibition and Harriet Bart’s at the Weisman Art Museum. They each embrace and expose the alchemical but through radically different material poetics.