Conversation with Lorenzo Quinn on the essence and meaning of his Art

“And the large hands, they are Help. So the idea is: Hope is mother and child, mother and daughter. Wisdom: its grandmother and niece. Faith: father and child. Friendship: two young boys. Love: us two. These are our hands. And then we have Help, two strong hands, one helping the other.”

Why are there six hands?

Six hands because five is one for each continent, each continent one. And the sixth hand is to bring all of them together. It is the ideal continent, the one united continent and we have to help one another. So each gesture is very important because you help people rise. When you help somebody, you help somebody to get up. So we have to help each other rise above. That is the position of that hand. Then we have Love, this comes from a sculpture of mine. We have Friendship. We have Wisdom, interconnecting and understanding and passing from one generation to the next. We have Faith, which is the boy with the father. These are the six hands.

So this is my project for Venice for this year. And I am very, very excited.

We have the phenomena of Broken Families in our time. It is very important to work in this direction with art, science, education. And I see possibility to touch people with your work. We have to show people that they have to live together. Why are you using in your works the figure of the hand, the woman, man and the circle? Why are you a figurative artist?

Yes, I am of course a figurative artist. Why am I figurative? Because I want people to understand. I don’t want to do abstract art because abstract art is a monologue. It is not a dialogue. It is the artist inside, expressing himself and it is open to interpretation: it is what he wants to say, and just what he wants to say and there are thousands of interpretations to it. But there is no real conversation, back and forth. There is not a statement by the artist saying: this is how I feel about life, about my relationship. I want to unite people through
my art.

So I need people to understand what I am saying. If I speak through abstract art, people don’t understand. If I speak through figurative art, it is universal. And a hand is even more universal. Everybody understand this, I don’t have to explain it. It is easy. I think certain concepts that are very complicated, you can make them easy for people to understand. You know, in the beginning the Bible was told through paintings because people couldn’t read. But people understood an image. So they made images simple for them to understand the story behind the Bible.

But that is religion. I have faith and I believe in God but my work is not about that. My work is really about bringing everybody together: all faiths, all beliefs, no extremism.

I am trying to create the perfect world. The perfect world does not exist and I cannot create the perfect world because human beings are not perfect. And since we are not perfect, we cannot create the perfect world. To have a perfect world, you have to take away all the human beings. But we can at least try to do something good and positive for each other, at least try. And there are some good people doing that, trying to make this world better. But at times I feel like we are back in the Roman Empire. The Empire started going down because all they were thinking about were parties, etc. They stopped thinking about what was important for the society to grow, about art, about philosophy and started living a life that was superficial before the Empire fell.

I have sometimes this feeling, with Instagram, and social media. I don’t want to be a hypocrite: I am also on Instagram. So it is very easy to point the finger but the first thing you have to do is to point the finger at yourself. Because I, myself am a victim and a user of the system I sometimes complain about. However, I think there are different ways of using it. For example, the way I use Instagram is to spread positive messages, to spread unity, love and not hate. I don’t use Instagram to show people my parties or my cars or what I had at lunch and for dinner. I use it in a different way. So we can use the tools that we have today in a positive way.

Another sculpture of you that I saw first and that touched me deeply, is ‘Mother Nature’. How do you get the idea to make such a strong work full of dynamic and positive energy? How do you create such a strong energy in your work?

It is very difficult to explain how you get an idea. Because the idea comes. Sometimes it takes months or years. You are thinking how to transfer what I want to say and how do I materialize it. Sometimes it can happen into the night, on a trip, or even on a plane.

What I always want to do: I want to show the strength of Nature. I love the idea that it is called Mother Nature. Because like a mother towards a child, she cares about her child but she also has to direct her child. The child grows up and becomes strong. However, we cannot control Mother Nature. We think that human beings are so powerful and can do everything. We can ruin it, but ultimately Mother Nature will control us. She will give back to us what we give to her. She is like a Mother giving us unconditional love, but how are we treating her back, like a Mother and a Child relationship. A Mother will always give unconditional love to her Child. No matter what the Child throws back at the Mother, she will always try to give that Child love back. But of course you cannot abuse your mother, and you shouldn’t abuse your mother.

And that is what we are doing with the World. So I wanted to show this relationship. There is an interesting balance there between the Woman and the World. I always try to work with balance in all my sculptures.

What does it mean to be an artist according to you? What is the essence of the artist’s creativity?
How do you see your art?

In the end we are storytellers. I think an artist has the ability to express, to materialize what you think. As an artist I am able to translate into material what I think. Sometimes with good, sometimes with poor results. That is the creativeness that an artist has. When you are talking about love, you can talk about love in many different ways. It is how you express it. Of course then there is also the technical ability behind. But I think that that is less important. It is true: an image really is worth a thousand words. The sculpture itself has to strike you, to move emotions within you.

If a sculpture leaves you emotionless, it is not successful because it was not able to transmit anything. I think art has to transmit. That is how I see my art. I can never just make a woman sitting down, with no purpose. Why is she sitting down? Is she trying to say something, is she happy, is she sad? Every time I make a sculpture, the first thing I think about is: what do I want to say with this sculpture? And then I make the sculpture. So it is never the other way around. I don’t make something and then I say: oh ok, now I made this, let me try to find a reason for it, let me try to find a meaning. It is the other way around. First I look at the meaning and then I make
the art.

I see that Family and Humanity are very important in your art. Can you elaborate on that? Why is Family so important in your work?

I think family creates a strong foundation to build from, to grow from. It creates your moral values and who you are, your environment, what you believe in, what you want to protect. Because you love your family and so you want to protect your family, where your family lives, their present and their future. If you really love your family, then you have to love the world and protect the world. I believe that having a strong core, with strong family values helps you for many things: it helps you when things are not working out. And who are you doing it for if, you are not doing it to celebrate it with your friends and your family. In the end, when I do something I always think about sharing my successes, and also my failures. In fact most of them are failures. And you need somebody next to you who can help and guide you and who is there for you, and you are there for them.

I can see that the Figure of the Woman is also very important in your work. What can you say about this?

For me a Woman has always been the most powerful figure in my life. I had a very strong mother. People know my father because my father was famous. But my father was not around all the time, my mother was. I had several aunts: when my mother was travelling with my father, they came to the house. There was always a strong female figure in my life. And later my beautiful wife has been with me since the beginning. I started working when I was 20, we met and got married when we were 22.

Really from the beginning of my career, which is 30 years ago, we have been together ever since. So this is for me very important. It also helps me understand because women have a different sensitivity, a different way of looking at things. Men are square and women are round, a sphere. And I need that side to be a complete artist. If I just had my point of view, I think my art would lack a very important element, the most important element: the element of life, of understanding life, of giving life. I cannot do what you women can do. No man can. We cannot bring life to this World. It is thanks to women that this happens. Yes, we help. But we have just the fun part, you have all the suffering. So we have to give back.

Also Children are crucial to your work. What more can be done in the future to protect and improve the living condition, context and well-being of all children around the World?

They say that children are our future and present. They are here as human beings and they have to be treated well, honored and respected. They are tomorrow’s leaders. I am very sensitive towards children: the one thing that can drive me crazy is the mistreatment of a child. When I see a child mistreated, I feel this pain inside. It is so difficult to explain what I feel when I see a child mistreated, because they are really defenseless in our hands. So I think that more has to be done to protect children in the world. There is still a lot of child trafficking, which is horrible. My wife supports a local charity that helps children, most of them are abused children. It is so sad because a child needs hope. And when you lose hope, you lose everything.

Yes, and we have to create hope. We must create beautiful storytelling.

Yes, you need to believe in the dream. You need to believe that the World will be better for you when you grow up. If you don’t believe that tomorrow’s world is going to be worth it, then you don’t fight for anything. The first thing is making them believe in themselves. But you know, I am a father. It is easy to talk about other children but I can have problems in my own house, because as I said before, human beings are not perfect. So it is easy to speak and to say lovely things but then you have to act upon it.

I have three lovely children. I am very proud of all three of them, but they are all different. And imagine if in my family they are all different, think about the World. But it is a lovely cause to fight for unity. I also think children should take themselves also more serious: the power of a child, I think, is unquestionable. And the other day I saw a lovely TED Talk about the Swedish girl Greta Thunberg. She is fantastic. She made all the grown ups in the room and the people that looked at her TED Talk really cry. If a child sees this, how can we not see it. But sometimes they can see it because they don’t have all these walls that we create when we are growing up. They speak from the heart.

Yes, Greta Thunberg inspired also young people in Belgium who instigated and organized every week on Thursday a school strike and peaceful protest march demanding climate justice. In one of these Thursday protest marches, 35 000 youngsters were protesting. This caught also a lot of international attention. Even Leonardo DiCaprio gave his support on Twitter to their initiative and climate demonstrations. What are your views on the ways in which we can live in greater climate consciousness?

This morning, something very simple happened. We woke up and one of the water pumps in our house broke. And we had no water. Having no water for some hours, made us realize more sharply how lucky we are that we have all the water in the world that we want. We had no running water and all of the sudden: oh my God, I can’t brush my teeth, I can’t shave, I can’t shampoo, I can’t shower, I can’t cook. I called the plumber and he came after a half an hour and water was coming. A lot of people don’t have that. And you see when you are missing one thing how all of the sudden your life falls apart. If electricity goes away, your life falls apart. So we take for granted things all the time that people don’t have access to. And we only realize it when it happens to us. And I am somebody who is quite sensitive about this. I don’t leave the water running when I brush my teeth. I don’t take long showers. I try to do what I think is morally correct. But there is so much more that you can do, that everybody can do.

This interview was taken by Barbara Dietrich and transcribed by Maarten Vermeir