Kevin O’Quinn is an experience. He’s as gregarious, inquisitive and engaging as the vibrant and visually stimulating art he creates.
His pop art is instantly recognizable and yet, contains a mystery in how he juxtaposes celebrities or characters from popular films or television shows with unique and obscure references to their personal histories.
“There’s many terms for what I do,” Kevin says. “It’s mixed media art. It’s pop art. I do pop culture people, so it kind of slides into that category.”
His pieces begin with multiple layers of magazine paper to create a background with the colour palette he wants. As he builds each layer, he sands away areas in order to reveal those underneath, creating an almost sedimentary look through the past.
The subject stands boldly in front of this, but can be placed under a similar process as well or obscured in some way by paint or other mediums. It is then covered in a resin to give it Kevin’s signature bold glossy appearance.
“Basically, resin started as what they put on the bottom of boats. So, you can buy resin for pretty much any project.”
What is left is an art piece, unique in every way, from its creation to its message.
Areas of each work are also highlighted by other materials, such as motorcycle metal flake which is significantly shinier and more brilliant than glitter, diamond dust, and aerosol and acrylic paint.
And while Kevin has begun to find success in selling his art, he says that is not what inspired him to get into it.
Years ago, he injured himself at a previous job. While waiting for surgery and the pain becoming too much to bear, he ended up with a prescription for Percocet, leading to an addiction for the painkiller.
It took his brother-in-law, who is a nurse, to make him realize what was happening. He took Kevin aside one day to give him this hard truth.
“I always had a mantra with myself that I would never end up in jail and never really get on drugs,” Kevin says. “And as soon as he said that, it just kind of threw me for a loop.”
In rehab, he was able to find an alternative to help ease his pain: meditation. Unfortunately, it did not have the same effect when he returned home. But undeterred, he began to research how meditation worked and what else he might try in order to occupy his mind.
He found art.
“When I focused on something like that, I totally zone in, and it’s the exact same thing [as meditation]. From there, I started painting, acrylic, strictly acrylic type stuff.”
But that was where it was supposed to end, as a means of catharsis for his injury. It was Kevin’s wife who told him he should take his artwork to galleries.
“It was almost ridiculous to me, but we had an art show, and I sold pieces, and got my word out there, my name out there,” he says. “It's been a very interesting ride, because it’s the first time I’ve ever done anything where monetary amounts weren’t even in the question when I was doing it.”
He credits the art community that he has found for encouraging him to go further, to explore and try new things. He is as open with his art as he is with his story, and it is refreshingly bold and frank.
“My brain works by asking, ‘Is it crazy to do? And will it work?’ And then I try it, and most of the time, it works.”
By Nathan Durec