Maureen Quin began a body of work she subsequently titled ‘The Hunt’ in the 1990s, shortly after her return from her residency in the Cité des Internationale, where she stayed in one of the studios for artists in Paris, France. She began to explore a theme which emotionally and intellectually lies at the crux of our choices; to aggressively destroy humanity and our natural environment with our greed or to nurture it with domesticity and love.
Quin mentions that while in Paris, she was unmoved by Rodin’s sculpture, which was not surprising even though Rodin’s ‘Thinker’ began a process of introspection reflected in the arts that led to the Modern Movement internationally. Rodin concentrated on the mobility of light and shade to dramatize the surface of his monumental works whereas Quin aligns herself with the introspective and reductive theory and philosophy of the Modern Art Movement, particularly referencing the influence the British sculptor Henry Moore.
During the formative years of her career as a sculptor, in 1956 Quin won the Emma Smith Bursary to study at Goldsmith College in New Cross, London under Mr. Parker and Mr. Robert Jones. Co-incidentally, thirty-four years earlier Graham Sutherland studied there.
Sir Herbert Read, leading British art critic and educationalist of the time, reviewed the decisive developments that took place in British Art in the decade 1930 -1940 concisely in a small book titled Contemporary British Art first published by Pelican Books in 1951, six years after WWII ended. He noted that in this period four artists dominated the English scene: Henry Moore, Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth and Graham Sutherland who achieved international recognition, emerging, as they did out, of the slumbering provincialism’ of British Art.
In the period leading up to during WWI and WWII radical changes were taking place in the arts and sciences and in the individual perception of self. Horrified by the ravages of WWI and WWII and cruelty of man to man, thinking artists and philosophers looked inward at the human psyche.
In approach and expression Quin’s ‘The Hunt’ is closer to Sutherland’s expressive style than to Moore’s monumental figures. It is apposite to recall Read’s comments on Sutherland’s capacity to wrest ‘out of any organic form, an image as terrifying as any invented by science fiction. The same is true of Bacon (mentored by Sutherland). Both artists seem to exude what it used to be fashionable to call angst- undefinable anxiety, fear of the reality behind appearances which they never-the-less were compelled to reveal – what Kierkegaard, who was the first to have this kind of vision, called the despair of immediacy, of not willing to be oneself, or not willing to be a self, of willing to be another than himself – demoniac despair, nihilism.’
In northern Europe, particularly Germany and Scandinavia the Modern Art Movement was associated with the word expressionism. Read qualifies this term saying expressionism is not, like Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, a specifically modern style in art. It is rather a style that tends to appear in the north whenever the strength of external influences diminishes as, for example, in the art of the Norwegian Edvard Munch and the Dutchman Vincent van Gogh. It is also present in Folk and Primitive Art. He notes that ‘What is gained from seclusion, from intensive contemplation, and from obstinate independence is, objectivity, is an intense vision and subjectivity, is a visionary intensity. Violent emotional content – carries psychological revelation to an expressive degree of caricature (caricature being a persistent type of expressionist art).
Could it be a coincidence that in reverting to a subject as primal as the hunt in 1990s, in form and expression Quin’s sculptures carry some recollection of Sutherland’s metaphysical references and formal vocabulary, for instance, the bird-like and horned heads that bare some semblance to the Pterodactyl a creature that appear in Sutherlands paintings? Or are these terrifying features an amalgam of references to malign horned and beaked archetypes manifest in many different cultures throughout the world? Quin cites the Koi San Tokoloshe? Are these creatures the ‘ Avatars’; the exterior enactments of Quin’s deeply felt concerns and feelings?
Read was aware that there was no unity in the Modern Art Movement, anywhere in the world, but rather a diversity that reflects the fragmented nature of our society. Yet he saw two “predominant tendencies that may in the end prove complementary rather than contradictory – the search for formal harmony, for an equilibrium that compensates for our spiritual chaos; and a desire to express that chaos itself in images of uncompromising vitality”.
The scope of the Hunt Series redresses this balance, the blight of the ‘kill’ is followed by remorse and a plea for redemption, a better world for the next generation.
The dynamic, tensile, attenuated form and powerful bunched musculature of Quin’s figures in The Hunt convey the sensation and emotional mood of each sculpture with great presence. Being so ’ in the present ‘ they engender what anthropologist call participation mystic rather than detached admiration. It is not surprising that she says that it was only as the series evolved a she felt a narrative could be perceived and endorsed this with the making of a final symbolic figure. It is possible that though Quin adamantly declares this work reflects her African heritage, the hunt is a universal theme and conveys truth that has universal significance in a restless world. Nature and our existence are threatened by climate change and a relentless incursion into the wild places, the destruction of habitats driving to extinction so many of the species that populate earth, destroying the balance of nature and ultimately, in the not too distant future, human existence. Perhaps the injunction of the final symbolic figure of the series holding forth a golden child is a plea for transformation, a heed to be aware of our natural heritage and use it with greater wisdom than the current generation have succeeded in doing, to think and to preserve it our children.
Gail Dorje (B A Fine Art) UCT