Much of Tom Quinn’s work is a dream, wild dreams that even Sigmund Freud would have a hard time deciphering.
Like in “Ceci N’est Pas un Cigare” where a woman in old-fashioned attire pushes a baby-sized man in a stroller, “Here be Dragons” where a rubber ducky menaces a tilting ship or “The Missing Chapter or Beyond the Appliances of Art” where a huge bee wearing a long golden wig offers a blue sweater to a young girl. Questions arise but all Quinn has to say is, “I like irony and nonsense, familiar yet strange. I can’t just paint a bowl of fruit.”
Quinn, 50, actually can paint a bowl of fruit, a lovely landscape, a mountain range or a stunning portrait but, to him, it’s not complete without a twist. “I get bored with conventional art, and I like to shake up a picture in some way, so there’s some irony and humor involved,” he said. “I’m drawn to the female nude as a subject, but I don’t want to do a conventional picture of a woman reclining on a couch. I’d rather show her leaning on a bicycle, playing a violin in a park, or pouring herself some wine. I also enjoy landscapes, but I can’t do a conventional scene of mountains and trees. My heart wouldn’t be in it. There has to be something ‘wrong’ with the picture, like giant ice cream cones in the distance.”
Quinn grew up in Great Falls, where he began painting at 12. He earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Gonzaga University. Later, after viewing American artist Dick Hess’ work at the art gallery at Spokane Falls Community College, Quinn went on to earn an art degree from the Art Institute in Seattle.
“Hess’ paintings had all originally been illustrations for record album covers, book covers, magazine articles, and advertisements,” Quinn said. Before I saw them, I’d always thought that the disadvantage of being an illustrator is that you don’t have the creative freedom of the fine artist; you have to please the art director and the client. These pictures, however, showed plenty of creativity and originality. I was intrigued by his mixture of the professional and the primitive.”
Quinn’s hopes were to work for an advertising agency, eventually become a freelancer, painting album covers, book covers, magazine articles, even comic strips and then retire to paint full time. It didn’t quite work out that way. He found work in the advertising department of Buttrey Food and Drugs in Great Falls. “My title was ‘layout artist,’ but most of my work wasn’t very artistic; calling me an artist was like calling a bingo announcer an actor.”
In 1991, he moved back to Spokane, where he taught at Spokane Art School and the Corbin Art Center, where he still works as a teacher and handyman. He freelances as a caricature artist at events and illustrates where he can. He also writes and plays the guitar.
His murals can be found on the corner of Sprague Avenue and Division Street (large marmots), Hillyard, at Cannon and Pacific, Vinegar Flats (wildlife on pillars), Carl’s Jr. in Spokane Valley (smiley faced big star) and in the Spokane International Airport.
He paints in a room in his home in Peaceful Valley that can be found at the top of a spiral staircase. There, he imagines the impossible and relays it through his art.