B.C. in the case of Nathaniel Mary Quinn stands for “Before Charles.” You see, the artist had been teaching for a decade while making paintings afterhours in his Bed-Stuy apartment/studio. With hopes of one day becoming an artist-in-residence at The Studio Museum in Harlem, he seemed content with the life he and his wife, Donna, were nurturing. This was a long way from the infamous Robert Taylor Homes in Chicago where, at age 15, his young life was shattered after being abandoned by his father and three older brothers two months following his mother’s passing. It would take years of therapy as an adult, and gaining a certain amount of introspective gratitude, for Quinn to forgive his family for abandoning him while he was away at boarding school. He’d hoped to visit them during the Thanksgiving break, given that he had not seen his father or brothers since the funeral, but what he returned to was a vacant, empty apartment. “Losing my family was, in fact, the very beginning of my life,” he’s said reflecting on the traumatic experience. His understanding is that God delivered him out of an environment that had the potential to ruin him had he returned to Bronzeville. It is within the painful truth of this harrowing origin story that NMQ exists today as a critically acclaimed artist. His decision to add his mother’s name to his own when he graduated from high school has cemented her name in history. By becoming "Nathaniel Mary Quinn," not only does she appear on his diploma and degrees, but now when his collage-like paintings hang on the walls of galleries like Gagosian, the Whitney or the Pace in London, her presence is also there.
When the mother of one of his students offered to host a salon-style exhibition in her Bed-Stuy brownstone, NMQ could not have known that this event would set in motion a purposeful and dynamic shift in his stylistic practice. Agreeing to exhibit five pieces, only four were complete hours before guests were set to arrive and time was of essence. He could not feasibly paint another entire canvas for this exhibit. Then inspiration hit. He began an intuitive process of working on a 50 x 38 inch sheet of paper drawing a face in a more simplistic style with reduced details. What emerged was a piece entitled “Charles” that encapsulates the essence of his older brother of the same name. More notable is that “Charles” established the visual language that Quinn eloquently speaks in his art. Now working out of his Crown Heights studio, NMQ meets a high demand for his hybrid, fractured portraits by creating honest reflections of his past life as well as his current community and the potential that lies ahead. He was once asked about deeply embedded insecurities, doubts, and shortcomings. His response: “We each have a share of brokenness and a share of potential to transcend our circumstances, both within and without.”