Eileen Quinlan, Dawn Goes Down @Miguel Abreu

JTF (just the facts): A total of 11 large scale photographic works, alternately framed in silver and unmatted and mounted unframed, and hung against white and black walls in the main gallery space, the second gallery, and the entrance area. 4 of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 2020. Physical sizes are either 46×30 or 46×36 inches, and the prints are available in editions of 2+2AP. 4 more of the works are UV prints on Dibond panels (ranging from 2 to 4 panels), made in 2020. Overall dimensions range from roughly 72×57 to 72×103 inches, and the works are available in editions of 3+2AP. The last 3 works are digital chromogenic prints mounted on Dibond, made in 2020. Each of these prints is sized 60×48 inches (or the reverse), and the prints are available in editions of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

A companion exhibit, paired with Cheyney Thompson and including half a dozen smaller works by Quinlan, is on view at the gallery’s 36 Orchard location (here).

Comments/Context: Essentially picking right up where she left off, Eileen Quinlan’s new photographs continue to refine the process-rich experiments she has been exploring for the last decade.

At this point in her career, Quinlan is traveling down two artistic roads simultaneously, encouraging their resonances to influence and play off each other. One path is resolutely analog, pushing black and white chemical processing and manipulated emulsion distortion to their atmospheric limits. The other is wholly digital, using scanners and motion to extend the possibilities of refracted light-based abstraction. The first approach is centered on breaking imagery down, while the second is rooted in additive creation, so there is a healthy push and pull of alternate thinking taking place.

In her recent black and white works, Quinlan begins with recognizable texture. Rough gnarled wood and smooth carved stone (resembling skin) provide elegant visual touchpoints, which Quinlan then proceeds to disrupt with a variety of techniques. Grain and shadow quickly give way to chemical spills, gestural washes, and torn emulsions that compete with the photographic imagery for dominance. In the pictures of wood, the effects are more chaotic, creating ghosted doublings, yawning voids, and swirling marks like soapy window washing. The result is a group of photographs that move from strict representation to something more expressive and symbolic, the subject matter twisted into moody uncertainty.

Quinlan’s digital efforts have a much more technical aesthetic. In their simplest forms, they track undulating stripes of color as they march across the surface of the paper. Like jagged mountains, the pulse of a heartbeat, or a waving flag, the lines wiggle and wander, their colors bent, smeared, and separated into misaligned registers. Their performative motion is perhaps loosely akin to hand-crafting Quinlan does in the analog realm, her dragging and repositioning on the scanner bed encouraging the colors to warp and dissolve.

Quinlan’s larger, multi-panel digital works are more complex and original. While it is impossible to tell for certain, it appears the Quinlan has scanned various overlapped shards of transparent plastic sheeting, creating both hard edged geometries and flares and shimmers of color as the light bounces off the plastic. In some cases, grit and fingerprints are small visible details, reminding us of the physicality of the process, regardless of its technology. Bound by the verticality of the panels, the individual images are then gathered together in groups, creating echoes of color and shape that combine into aggregate works, with some lines and edges continuing from one panel to the next. The best of the works make the most of the available layering, forcing the smears and squiggles of color into a delicate balancing act, with reversals of light and dark adding fluidity.

Quinlan is unusual in her simultaneous study of both analog and digital surfaces, and that cross-pollination of photographic ideas will likely inform further experimentation. Perhaps the two can ultimately move toward convergence, with digital imagery rephotographed and manipulated in the analog realm, and analog imagery and messy wet chemicals reinterpreted by the scanner. In the meantime, Quinlan has one foot in each camp, mediating the artistic disputes across contested boundaries.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The black and white prints are $16000 or $18000 each (based on size), while the color works range up to $38000 for the largest 4-panel work. In the past few years, Quinlan’s work has started to show up in the secondary markets with more regularity, with recent prices ranging from roughly $3000 to $15000.

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