Thomas Quinn talks about the magic in his life associated with both meanings of desolation: depressing or just plain empty, and he’s had plenty of reasons for both interpretations of those words. Tom equates the magic in his life to moments when he felt too sad and too lucky. Here’s some of his story, leaving out the fact that he’s a very successful artist and a deeply learned Labrador retriever trainer. The magic is in both art and dogs, but that’s not the really juicy stuff, the stuff that happened only to and for him.
Tom says he could draw “about anything” when he was about three years old. After seven years of art school, Tom landed a real job in New York and also landed the girlfriend he’d followed east. (Jeri would soon be his wife, and he says he was “always nuts about her.”) The couple stayed in Manhattan where Tom worked in a prominent Madison Avenue studio overlooking Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. No magic kept him from being fired after just four months for “artistic insubordination.” He began to freelance. During that time, he was asked if he could illustrate a “duel” between a Ferrari and a Pontiac for Car and Driver’s upcoming cover. Sure he could. The cover launched his career as a sought-after illustrator. Magic.
Not long thereafter, just as Tom and Jeri were worrying about their young son being a “city kid,” they were offered a trade: their IM Pei midtown apartment for a farm in Connecticut… more magic. Then Tom got sick, so sick that surgeons and assorted specialty doctors couldn’t seem to figure out what was wrong, what he needed to restore his health. Tom was dying; still, he refused Last Rites. Desolation. Finally, he met Vincent Andriole, a young and determined infectious disease specialist who knew Tom had an infection but not what the bugs were. Even the Center for Disease Control failed repeatedly to identify the mystery microbe. Vince (soon on a first name basis with his patient) promised not to quit until they figured out what was making Tom so sick that he’d spent about a year in the Yale-New Haven hospital. Many new antibiotics were being studied at that time, and one of them finally began to work, just about when Tom’s 6’5” cowboy brother showed up, tossed his Stetson on the bed and said, “Hey, you need to get out of the East where everyone is little, white, and fucked up!” Magic.
So Tom and Jeri and their son went home (Tom was raised in Kentfield when there were still goats in people’s back yards) to West Marin, specifically to a way way way out rental house at Limantour beach. Desolate. Magical. He and his brother had hunted there as young kids. Now, Tom swam with whales, walked the beach, and felt blessed. He built a small hospital for damaged wildlife, mostly seabirds. In admiration for these creatures, he began to paint them.
This was at a time when the Park was scooping up land in every direction, The Quinns had just signed a five year lease when they were informed they must leave, and soon. Desolation, the bad kind. Through grit and luck, the family found a property in downtown Point Reyes where they’ve lived and worked for forty-five years. Their view of the Inverness Ridge and the Giacomini Wetlands remains magical.
Another magical story: Before they headed west, Tom brought Vince, the doc, an oil painting of a beautiful hand built barn in Olema which had survived the 1906 earthquake because it was so perfectly constructed. The painting shows the barn overhung by “menacing, dark” oak trees. For Tom, the barn represented stubborn courage; the oaks the disease he and Vince beat together. When he brought the painting to Vince, the two of them sat together, both in tears. They’ve kept in touch over more than forty years as Tom’s reputation as a painter grew and Vince went on to worldwide recognition in his field.
One more magic=desolate moment: Steve Wozniak, with Steve Jobs a founder of Apple, asked Tom to draw a military tank for a computer game they were working on. When he showed Tom a prototype for a desktop computer (fiberglass keyboard, duct taped to a small TV), Tom was bored by Steve’s impassioned demonstration. Steve also told Tom to buy stock in their company, as they would soon be in “every home in the country.” Tom didn’t, and he still has no computer: magic? desolation?
Some images of Tom’s wondrous paintings are at thomasquinnart.com
If you poke around the internet, you’ll find more at the websites of galleries and museums where his work has been shown. Here’s a sample: