At the recently concluded Venice Biennale, contemporary sculptor Lorenzo Quinn unveiled his latest sculpture “Support”. Two monumental hands coming out of the grand canal to support the historic walls of the iconic Ca’Sagredo Hotel. Support is a rebalancing of sorts, putting forward the contrasting creative and destructive elements of human nature, while highlighting issues of climate change. Hands are humanity’s most important tool, symbolising both the destruction of the world, and the hope to change it for the better. Armed with worldly philosophies and the deep understanding of classical techniques, Lorenzo Quinn proves that he is one of our generation’s most important contemporary artists — an artist made for our times, and who creates for our times.
In conversation with Lorenzo Quinn, we discuss his love for Dali and surrealism, his early forays into art, his unique creative process, and the important messages he imbues with his work. And while sculpture will always have an intrinsic decorative element, Lorenzo Quinn questions the very nature of creation process with his work, where meaning precedes creation and not vice versa.
Talk us through your first experience with sculpture, how did your love for the craft begin?
My first experience with sculpture was a long time ago. I drew a lot when I was growing up; and then I started painting. My paintings were always somewhat 3D and I used to always paint a lot of hands. One day, a gallery owner which I showed with in Hawaii, said “looking at your paintings there is this other dimension that you’re missing that you are trying to find in your painting” I then asked “what should I sculpt” to which my friend responded “you draw and paint them and they’re the hardest thing to do, so why don’t you try hands?” and this was what led to my first sculpture. Sculpture however, looked to me as if it was a decorative object. So my second sculpture Adam and Eve - a male torso with a female torso inside of it, went beyond the decorative element of sculpture. It was a study of a drawing by Michelangelo which I wanted to translate into wanna 3D. I worked with a teacher on making that torso but then it looked too academic. The proportions were correct but it seemed too decorative and something was missing; so I sculpted a female torso coming out from within this male one. I think it is really the one that initiated this whole series that I am still working today, the series of transmitting messages through my work.
You actually had a brief career in acting with your father back in your twenties. How do you go from acting to sculpture?
I started drawing and painting because I was a huge fan of Salvador Dali. He had such a creative mind and he blew me away, and technically he was an incredible master. I adored him and I tried to emulate him as much as possible, but it was impossible as his technical abilities were second to none. I was a surrealist painter and so I made a surrealist sculpture. One of the opportunities I had as an actor quite immediately in fact, was to play Salvador Dali! It was quite incredible as I won the best new actor award because of it, but I didn't want to continue in acting. Although I was using acting to support myself as an artist, as sculpting is an expensive enterprise which often requires funding. I was always keen to do it on my own, I never asked my parents for money and I tried to find my own way. After playing Dali, I realised I wasn't Dali. I knew that I needed to make my own stance and find my own niche in the art world; and so I moved away from surrealism and started working in symbolism.
MichaelAngelo, Gian Lorenzo Bernini, and Auguste Rodin, all masters of Baroque sculpture, are often cited as sources of inspiration for your work. How do these legendary sculptors inspire your art?
The mastery of the work! You know, I look at their work and I get depressed, because I know i’ll never be able to do that. When I go to Italy, I am pulled in two directions, one in which I am incredibly inspired by this magic, and also incredibly depressed as I will never reach those heights. I think my strength isn’t really in the realisation of the work, it’s more about the message rather than the image. Of course, the image is striking and of course it accompanies the work; I think that is where my strength lies — being able to transmit messages visually. At this point in my career, I no longer seek to create perfect anatomical bodies. I used to strive for that in the beginning, and sometimes I do go to classes to refresh my knowledge. Technically, it’s very important to have a good base. If you are creative by trade, you have to be able to go ahead and make what your mind is telling you to create. You need technical abilities, otherwise you will be limited in your creativity.
Talk us through your creative process? How do you go about creating a Lorenzo Quinn sculpture?
The first thing is always the message, what I want to talk about, and how do I talk about it. For example, I want to talk bout climate change, so I think how do I transmit this image visually, how do I make people understand? How do I make people look at it and get the idea immediately? Obviously that is not easy to do, so I'm lucky if I get the idea across and people get to see it. The title is what sparks the image in my mind, sometimes I write a phrase out and within the phrase, I find an adjective that sparks this image - and that’s when I start making the drawing. I never start the drawing without the message I love social media, I search around a lot and I see some really amazing stuff, some fantastic creative minds out there, and I look at them and think they are beautiful, but I don’t know what they mean, and I don’t work like that. If I’d don’t have a meaning behind it, I can’t make it. Not taking away from the decorative, but it is just not how I operate. In some ways, this limits me as well.
Your piece, Support (2017) literally made waves at the Venice Biennale. Talk us through the creation of this piece? What has the reception been like?
Nowhere did I expect the success and the attention this piece has gotten. I am incredibly humbled by this, and what I love is that it made people talk about climate change in a different way. I guess it was very lucky that everything clicked. I knew they were gonna be spectacular, and I'm really happy it took off as it did and the message was embraced as it did. Sometimes, it’s about being their at the right time and place, especially with everything going on politically in the world. While its great that people are talking about this real issue that’s already affecting all of us, there are people that don't want to pay attention to it. This sculpture is about climate change; about the rise of the ocean and the melting of the ice caps. In fact, we were affected by climate change during the installation of the sculpture, as usually the high tide doesn’t come until November in Venice; and we had usually high tides coming in May. We started installing the hands on the 11th for the inauguration on the 12th. We had one hand installed and the night before, we couldn't place the second hand as they weigh 2.5 tons. We weren't able to install one of the hands because the tide was lifting the hand up! Luckily the tide went down so the hand of god helped us quite literally. I just came back from some meetings in Venice and it’s really amazing how people reacted to this work and the visibility it is getting. Being in the grand canal is second to none, in two weeks we have another striking sculpture it’s called “Stop Playing With the World” and I look forward to see how people react to it.
The Halcyon Gallery has been your constant partner here in London and abroad. Tell us about your relationship?
I've been working with the gallery for 20 years now, and I must say they are amazing. Sometimes I just wake up and get a crazy idea, like the time I told them to buy me a tent, I had the gallery president on the phone and he said, “Wait Lorenzo hold on, you want a tent?” and he found me a tent. For the Venice Biennale, I told the Halcyon that I wanted to make these hands for Support and of course they backed me immediately. It was quite an expensive undertaking, with very complicated engineering involved, and I didn't stop sculpting the hands until the seventeenth of April. When we first proposed support to the Biennale, they rejected it; and so the Halcyon Gallery helped me find a way to work with the city of Venice instead.
Finally, what is next for Lorenzo Quinn?
We've got the placement of various sculptures in Mumbai and in Hamptons fantastic project in shanghai, we’re putting a force of nature on top of a tower which will be incredible. There are so many wonderful things happening! We are preparing are a big show with all my newest works, and also opening a jewellery store in London this year, so very exciting.
Ca'Sagredo Hotel Venice
Words by Hannah Tan