The phrase “I really don’t know what I’d do if I couldn’t paint,” is a bit modest coming from Tana Quincy. Faced with the prospect of truly not being able to paint thanks to chronic muscle pain, this Omaha artist found out what she could do. As a result, she’s putting the finishing touches on her next body of work, Tents, which will show at Maud Boutique on 33rd and California through December.
It will be the first show since 2010 for the adjunct art instructor, who teaches figurative painting and drawing at Metro Community College, UNO, the Joslyn Art Museum, and Kent Bellows Studio. While her previous show, SODZO, at the Bemis Underground focused clearly on the human body with her small paintings of plaster anatomy casts, Quincy makes a subtler but intensely personal nod to the frailty of humanity with Tents.
The tiny cardboard tents, the oil paintings, and photographs of the miniatures—all encourage viewers to consider their own temporal, almost nomadic, existence. “We’re here in this temporal place, in these temporary structures. What’s your attitude; what’s your focus?” Quincy asks.
“After a few years of not being able to paint, I just really, really wanted to paint. So I learned to [hold] my paintbrush in my mouth.”
Her own focus is that she must make art. Somehow. Always.
While pursuing her MFA at the New York Academy of Art in 2008, she hit a roadblock. “I was sick,” Quincy recalls. “I didn’t know what was wrong. I’d get really tired.” She continued to work as a professional muralist after graduation but eventually injured both of her arms. “Holding a brush was painful.” She supported herself with babysitting and nurtured a need to do something with art. “I couldn’t paint. And that’s a pretty big obstacle for a painter,” she says. “I ended up making these little sculptures because I could tear paper and tape.”
She would spend perhaps 20 minutes a day creating tents from teaboxes she saved and has since created photographs and paintings of the tiny domiciles.
Wait. Paintings? So the pain is gone?
“I didn’t tell you a detail of my painting process,” Quincy admits. “After a few years of not being able to paint, I just really, really wanted to paint. So I learned to [hold] my paintbrush in my mouth. All these are paintings with my mouth.”
During the first stages of making Tents, Quincy would listen to NPR. “There were all these stories of these people who had overcome insurmountable obstacles,” she remembers. “[I heard] story after story of people overcoming these physical or mental handicaps. And then just being a painter, I’m thinking how can I paint? If I can’t use my arms, what can I do?”
“I feel like I’m ready to share it, and I feel a responsibility to share it.”
Trial and error have brought the artist to her current solution: Nailing a hole in a clean cork, Quincy puts her brush into the cork and clenches it between her teeth. “My teeth were getting sore because of biting on the wood,” she says. “The cork absorbs the movement of the brush, too. It’s my home remedy. It’s very genius,” she adds with a laugh.
Typically, Quincy keeps her unusual painting method quiet. “I don’t want it to be about that. I don’t want it to be a circus.” But after coaxing from people who know her and her work, she’s decided to talk about it in her artist statement and show the entire collection of Tents from start to finish. “The process is very important, too. I feel like I’m ready to share it, and I feel a responsibility to share it.”
Lynn Mills, the owner of Maud Boutique where Tents is showing, said she’s been very excited to host Quincy’s work. “I found it amazing how she worked through her emotional process through her art. It resonated with me as a woman,” Mills says. The boutique opened last August with a mission to educate people about the talent of the community with a shop in the front for local clothing designers and a gallery in the back for local artists.