Nathaniel Mary Quinn Opens His Home To Showcase Rising Artists
Acclaimed artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn and his wife, Donna Augustin-Quinn, in their Brooklyn, N.Y., home. “Pat Mautloa III” (2020) by Zwelethu Machepha hangs opposite “LaLa“ (2014) by Quinn, and “Fallen Angel #1” (2020) by Ludovic Nkoth hangs above the fireplace. The Gabriel Scott light fixture that presides over the living room is a favorite of Augustin-Quinn. Photographed by Frank Frances
For artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn and his wife, Donna Augustin-Quinn, their new Brooklyn home offers the perfect canvas to promote other Black artists.
“As long as you have a breath in your body, you should pursue your dreams,” says Quinn. “The only force powerful enough to stop you is you.” Photographed by Frank Frances
“Quinn is one of the top artists of his generation, but he has great reverence for all the greats before him,” says Donna Augustin-Quinn, describing the work of her husband, the visual artist Nathaniel Mary Quinn (@nathanielmaryquinn). He has skyrocketed to international fame with his dynamic parallels of torn collage—comprising bits of various images, including family photos and fashion editorials, that ingeniously coalesce into distorted faces depicting an intended duality. The grotesque and the gorgeous have equal footing in Quinn’s work—and in the couple’s now much more well-appointed real life. “Recently I had to stop talking to a woman I thought was my friend. Some people come around only to try and get the art. But at this point in Quinn’s career, the galleries are very picky about who gets the work,” Augustin-Quinn says with pride, not arrogance.
The artist at work in his former studio, which the couple will now use to house The Nathaniel Mary Quinn Artist in Residency Program. Photographed by Frank Frances
Photographed by Frank Frances
Augustin-Quinn is a successful actor, writer, and TV/ film producer represented by powerhouse agency CAA. She co-directed and starred in Bodega—a short film about the racial politics of gentrification. It was an official selection at several film festivals, including The American Black Film Festival and Cannes—and she currently has three television shows in development. Quinn and Augustin-Quinn have worked hard for their success, and their new four-floor Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone is a manifestation of their work ethic. “Money and success, if used properly, are vessels for bringing into fruition the things that you have always wanted,” says Augustin-Quinn. “Upon walking into this house, I knew that it was ours; we made an offer that day. As a young girl in London, it was my dream to live in a brownstone like the Huxtables’ on The Cosby Show. For Quinn and I such was a great deal of hard work; that work continues to be unwavering and consistent.”
Quinn grew up in poverty in a Chicago housing project. He earned a scholarship to attend Indiana’s prestigious Culver Military Academy. “Boarding school served as my escape from a drug-infested, gang-ridden community, giving light to the possibility of having an actual future, of evading an early death,” says Quinn, 44. “There were not only white wealthy students but there were Black folks with money too. I recognized a pattern; all were averse to mediocrity. I learned that you get out of life not what you want but, instead, what you are.” While a student at the prestigious boarding school, he learned that his mother died. Upon returning to Chicago, his father and five brothers were gone. His family abandoned him. With an otherworldly blend of tenacity and talent, he graduated from Crawfordsville, Ind.’s Wabash College and earned an MFA from New York University. When the couple married, Quinn was working as a full-time teacher with at-risk youth in downtown Brooklyn. “Quinn has painted every day since we have been together,” says Augustin-Quinn. “Things changed for him once we got married; he felt for me a deep sense of responsibility.”
Quinn met curator Dexter Wimberly and after a few shows in New York, he achieved what was once deemed impossible: In 2014, as an unknown artist, he scored a breakout show at a bluechip gallery, PACE in London. Quinn has continued to have sold-out, solo exhibitions, including his most recent, Not Far From Home; Still Far Away, at the Gagosian Gallery in New York. The title seems decidedly curious from an artist who lost his entire immediate family. What would his mother, Mary (he adopted her name in remembrance), think about the world’s rich and famous paying exorbitant amounts of money for a painting by her son? “She would have difficulty understanding my success. I would set her afloat across the world, enjoying new experiences, basking in different adventures. She would be ruthlessly happy.”
A work in process by Quinn Photographed by Frank Frances
A painting by Brandon Landers on the landing. Photographed by Frank Frances
“I AM TRYING TO CREATE SOMETHING MODERN, ELEGANT AND UNDERSTATED, BUT MOSTLY A PLACE WHERE QUINN CAN TRULY RELAX AFTER PAINTING FOR 14 HOURS. I WANT HIM TO ENJOY A SENSE OF OPULENCE. I LOVE VINTAGE AND CONTEMPORARY AESTHETICS.” –DONNA AUGUSTIN-QUINN
On a small shelf in the bedroom is a work by Quinn made during the lockdown period of the pandemic. Quinn found a piece of old wood and turned it into a treasure, hence the work’s title, “Treasure Hunt #2.” Photographed by Frank Frances
We caught up with the Quinns for more details on their Brooklyn townhouse, careers, and futures.
“Sneaking Around”: Quinn and Augustin-Quinn in their backyard garden. Photographed by Frank Frances
“MOST OF THE WORK CURRENTLY ON DISPLAY AT OUR NEW HOME IS A MIXTURE OF WELL-ESTABLISHED, UNKNOWN AND UP-AND-COMING AFRICAN AMERICAN, AFRICAN OR CARIBBEAN ARTISTS. WE’RE USING OUR NEW HOME TO HONOR AND PROMOTE RISING BLACK ARTISTS [AND] AS MANY COLLECTORS, MUSEUM AND GALLERY CURATORS, FOUNDATION EXECUTIVES AND ART DEALERS [AS WE CAN].” –DONNA AUGUSTIN-QUINN
“These are all Nathaniel’s works pre-2013 when his career started to take off,” shares Augustin-Quinn. “We keep these six works as a reminder of how far Quinn has come and how much hard work pays off. Here you can see in these works the beginnings, the seed of his fantastic talent. There are some simple sketches with watercolor, a small painting, a portrait of a famous musician. If you compare these works to works Quinn is making now, you can see how far Quinn has come. How important that growth is as those works are also still magnificent.” Photographed by Frank Frances
Why did you choose Brooklyn again to buy your newest home?
NMQ: Brooklyn is extraordinary—from its cultural and artistic diversity to the plethora of people from around the world—and the architecture of the brownstones in the borough is rather magnificent. It served as the place from which sprouted the possibilities of manifesting my dreams.
In the reflection of an overmantel mirror of the couple’s bedroom appears “Genie” (2016) by Tschabalala Self. Photographed by Frank Frances
Describe the scope of the renovations.
DAQ: We only renovated the top floor, which took three months. The top floor had three bedrooms; we ripped out all the walls, transforming the floor into a large, sprawling, loft-style space for Quinn’s studio. We also completely renovated that floor’s bathroom, which was deeply unappealing. Now, the top floor is set up for Quinn and his collectors, gallery dealers, museum directors, curators, and other art world folk.
Ludovic Nkoth’s “Fallen Angel #1” (2020) hangs above the fireplace. Photographed by Frank Frances
NMQ: I always prefer for my studio to be located where I live, making certain that incredible distance is not developed between my wife and I, considering the irrefutable fact that I practically spend a great majority of my life working and living in the studio.
Zwelethu Machepha’s “Pat Mautloa III” (2020) and newcomer Lynthia Edwards’ “Show Off ” (2021). Photographed by Frank Frances
How does it feel to have once been an abandoned child from a Chicago housing project to now living in a multimillion-dollar Brooklyn brownstone?
NMQ: Being born into, and growing up in, resolute poverty, compounded by being abandoned by my family, make surreal my present condition of owning a multimillion-dollar brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, one of the most robust real estate markets in the world. As a child, within the depths of my materially disadvantaged conditions, while in the care of illiterate parents and older brothers caught within the grip of enduring drug and alcohol addiction, not even a prophet anointed by God himself could have convinced me of such an optimistic future. More spectacularly, I purchased my brownstone with my art, as governed by my talent, as mobilized by my diligence, dogged work ethic, and perseverance—as made evident with the immovable fact that every single work of art I have created was brought into existence by the labor of my hands. And as I sat, with my wife, on two separate occasions during two separate closings—for we own two homes in Brooklyn—I slid across the table two hefty cashier’s checks, fulfilling remarkable down payments and closing costs, cementing ownership of both homes, at the behest of my studio art practice, on account of art I have created, driven by the same joyful conviction I had as an impoverished child.
The Quinns’ shelving that features Sanford & Son stars Demond Wilson and Redd Foxx on the July 1972 issue of Ebony Photographed by Frank Frances
What’s in the future for the Quinns?
Clotilde Jimenez’s “Strap Up (Mammy Two-Shoes)” (2018) and a 1960s-era Sciolari chandelier greet you in the foyer, and a Pietro Russo bookcase borders the living room. Photographed by Frank Frances
NMQ: The future includes the explosion of Donna’s writing, acting, directing, and producing career in relation to new television shows and films, the purchasing of more homes, the development of an artist-in-residence program in Brooklyn, and the production of products, such as sneakers, designer bags and—strangely enough—a greeting card, called ‘The Mary Greeting Card.’ It’s named after my mother and is custom made, like small works of art, where a duplicate of the same card will never be made.
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