Eileen Quinlan, The Waves @Miguel Abreu

JTF (just the facts): A total of 18 photographic works, generally framed in aluminum and unmatted, and hung against white walls in a series of connected rooms. Seventeen of the works are UV-cured inkjet prints on mirror, made in 2022 and 2023. Each is sized roughly 40×30 inches and is unique. The show also includes one gelatin silver print (gold toned), made in 2017. It is sized 31×40 inches and is available in an edition of 3+2AP. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: While the gallery show cycle of presenting new work every 18 to 24 months arranges the output of an artist into neatly ordered packages, it is often the case that there wasn’t one project or theme being single-mindedly followed during such a period, but instead a looser flow of ideas that were continuing to evolve, progress, and intermingle over time. It is in these more tumultuous, unstructured, and less directed stretches of artistic time that experiments are tried, tangents are followed, and unlikely risks are taken, hopefully leading to multiple discoveries and paths of inquiry that have flashes of promise.

When we last caught up with Eileen Quinlan, in a 2020 gallery show in the midst of the pandemic (reviewed here), she seemed to be traveling down two largely separate but related artistic roads, diving further into the expressive possibilities of black-and-white chemical processing and emulsion distortion (often using her own nude body as a subject), while also playing with the combination of motion and a digital scanner to develop boldly colorful light-based abstractions. And as seen in her newest show, those roads seem to have liberally forked and intermingled in the intervening years since, leading to a range of smaller projects and series unified by their use of a mirrored substrate. Quinlan had added shiny mirrored surfaces as frames in her last round of works, and that idea has clearly expanded here, with imagery in both black-and-white and color now backed by the shifting transparency and opacity of a reflective undercarriage.

One group of works titled the “Shut-in Set” mixes the imagery of window blinds and seaside views of waves, clouds, and horizons, testing out layered combinations of visuals and tints. The horizontal lines of the blinds striate, veil, or block the top half of most of these works, with crashing waves, white-capped watery sprays, and billowing skies seen fleetingly underneath. In these works, the swirling blurred and fogged violence of the ocean (or the weather) is experienced from behind the divided protection of a static window, Quinlan’s multiple exposures flattening the visual barrier and the water/sky into one integrated (and sometimes reoriented) plane. She then colors a few of the resulting compositions with blue or red, adding flares of mood that seem representative of the recent emotional roller coaster of restrictive lockdowns and quarantines.

The “Spin Cycle” works seem to build on this swirling wave concept, pushing it further toward expressive abstraction. The five works in this series build up iteratively from a common visual framework, with additive washes, tonal reversals, color tints, and other interventions reworking the component parts into new compositions. The backing mirror is particularly effective in these images, as the light areas are left to show through to the reflective substrate; a central orb thus switches from a dark black sun to a shining fireball when the negative reversal occurs. The overall effect is vaguely akin to being inside a washing machine, so the title is indeed apt; watery sprays splash in arcs and curves around the vortex with vigorous implied motion, each work like a split second halt to the chaotic mixing process.

The show also includes a selection of other works that investigate different artistic alleys and byways, but they all include the shifting mirrored effect as a foundation. Two images from the “Swipe Set” are full abstractions made from vertically pulled chemical washes, like the gestural remnants of ink on a silkscreen plate. Horizontal stop and start lines near the bottoms of the images seem to imply horizons or layers of waves at the beach, connecting the aesthetics back to the other wave pictures, with the misty middle grey backdrops acting like clouded skies. Another black-and-white work brings back Quinlan’s interest in the nude form, in a doubled body pressed against hazed wet glass, and the impression of lungs (and the conceptual connection between in-and-out breathing and waves) comes through in yet another process-centric abstraction, where chemical rivulets look like an x-rayed network of branching air tubes.

Quinlan’s scanner-based digital experiments are also represented here, albeit in just three new works. Two come from a set titled “Mind Logger”, where smeared digital remnants tussle with ghostly hands that seem to reach up from behind, like the shower scene in Psycho; in one instance, the fingers multiply into ice blue touches that then tumble and dissolve into jittery static. The third work shatters into more recognizable shards, with rainbow effects and flares chopped up and overlapped like slices of digital noise.

In pushing forward on a number of aesthetic fronts simultaneously (with a hint of tying them together), Quinlan seems to have found a new reserve of energy and vitality. The mirrored substrates, and the printing that spills over onto the frames with uncontained physicality, activate previously subdued ideas, forcing them to engage with the reflections and changing light conditions in the gallery. The resulting images have their own frameworks, but also seem to drift and wander as temporary visual interruptions intrude here and there. This inside/outside reshuffling opens up works that were trapped in their own interior worlds (pandemic-induced or otherwise), breaking up the mood of introspection, if only for a fleeting moment.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are generally priced at $28000, with the one gelatin silver print at $14000. 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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