It’s worth taking the short trip this month to the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River for a particularly compelling art exhibit, Duende: The Art of Anthony Quinn. While the late actor, who lived the last five years of his life in neighboring Bristol, was best known for starring in films such as Lawrence of Arabia, he was, as it turns out, also a prolific visual artist.
Curated by Michele L’Heureux, the exhibition, which includes a portion of Quinn’s expansive body of work, was carefully designed to emphasize Quinn’s creative process. And create he did. “I honestly can’t imagine when the man slept,” Michele says with a laugh. A witness to the actor/artist’s unquenchable desire to make art is his wife Katherine, who was Quinn’s studio assistant for 17 years. It was Katherine who referred to her husband’s artistic fire as “duende,” a Spanish term that suggests passionate bursts of creativity and imagination.
Michele visited the Quinn estate in Bristol to get a sense of the work available. “To my surprise, there were thousands of works to choose from in a range of media – sculptures, drawings, paintings and prints,” she says. Katherine still resides there and was able to tell Michele a lot about the work, such as where it was produced and what Anthony was thinking when he made it. Michele says that thematically, much of the work is “figurative or relates to the body in some way.”
Beyond that, however, the astute curator noticed something else. “What struck me was the ability to see Quinn’s process unfold in several works put together,” she says. “For example, he would explore a certain abstract form in a small drawing, then you will see it in a larger painting, then again in a carved wood maquette and then maybe again in a life-size stone sculpture.”
After traveling to the Bristol estate two more times, Michele eventually selected 90 works, including sketches, drawings, paintings, sculptures, and photographs that she felt best demonstrated Quinn’s unique artistic process. She also included artifacts from Quinn’s studio, including workbenches and tools. “There is a selection of figurative work – both representative and abstract – as well as several portraits of others and himself and some abstract geometric work that also relates to the figure in many ways,” she says.
“My favorite drawing is an untitled work from 1963 using marker and watercolor on paper,” Michele says. “I love the composition of the work, the color palette and the combination of marks – from definitive brush strokes to cross-hatching to splattered water color and washes. It’s a small but powerful work that I find very peaceful and timeless. It references many ancient forms and cave paintings but also seems futuristic, like it could be prophesying some kind of event or happening.”
She’s also very fond of the sculptures Quinn carved from found oxen yokes. “I love the balance between the raw and the manipulated materials, the gestural carved strokes in the surface and the shapes formed by the various juttings and turns of the wood,” she says. “I love the use of found materials in art work, and I think his vision for using these yokes, particularly on their sides as standing sculptures, is quite inventive and beautiful.”
Put simply, the exhibition is a rare opportunity for the public to see another side of Quinn’s creative genius. “Most of the work has a real delicacy that I think speaks to Quinn’s love of nature and humanity; his respect for the human form and for forms in nature is apparent in his materials and his approach to the work,” Michele also notes. “I appreciate his palette, too – from deep bronzes and blacks to pale pinks to brightly-hued drawings in marker and pen.”
Duende: The Art of Anthony Quinn, presented by the Arbella Insurance Foundation, is on view Wednesday to Saturday from noon-5pm and by appointment through December 29. As Narrows is also a music venue, concert ticket holders are invited to stop into the gallery after hours on performance nights.