Most know Anthony Quinn for his highly acclaimed film and stage career. His roles were widely varied in films playing everything from Indians, mafia dons, Hawaiian Chiefs, Filipino freedom fighters, Chinese guerrillas and Arab sheiks. He was well rewarded for his work, picking up a pair of Academy awards for his roles in Viva Zapata! in 1952 and Lust For Life in 1956 playing artist Paul Gauguin.
Other notable roles include Zorba the Greek both on film and stage, La Strada, Wild is the Wind, Requiem for a Heavyweight, Lawrence of Arabia and Lion in the Desert. In all he appeared in over 200 films spanning over six decades.
What you might not know is that in addition to his acting career, and just as enduring, was his work as an artist.
Manuel Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca was born in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1915 to a Mexican mother and an Irish immigrant father. The family moved first to El Paso, Texas and later settled in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles where his father became an assistant cameraman at a movie studio.
As a youngster Quinn boxed professionally to help support himself and his family. In addition, he always had an interest in painting and drawing. During his teens, he won various art competitions and focused his studies at Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles on drafting.
Quinn’s art education up to that point was completely self taught, having never attended art school but taking advantage of books and museums. It was during this period that one of his architectural drawings won first prize, which was a meeting with Frank Lloyd Wright.
Quinn then formed a close friendship with Wright and began studying architecture under his tutelage. It was actually Wright who advised his young student to take diction lessons to improve his speech, saying that it would help him communicate his ideas better as an architect.
The lessons led to an interest in acting and when Quinn was offered a contract with Paramount Studios for $800 a week, he was conflicted. Wright famously told him, “Take it. You will never make that much with me.”
Although always creating art throughout his career as an actor, his artistic career kicked into high gear in his later years.
While on location for films he sketched his designs and would create tiny “maquettes” which he would later reinterpret into full size bronze, steel and wood sculpture. His studio today is brimming with over 5000 works including sketches, paintings and sculptures. One can clearly see at a glance the influence Picasso and many of the twentieth century artists had on Quinn’s work.
American art critic and poet Donald Kuspit explains, “Examining Quinn’s many expressions of creativity together — his art, collecting, and acting — we can see that he was a creative genius.” His gift was the ability to transform struggle into something of beauty and power.
By the early 1980s, Quinn’s work had caught the eyes of various gallery owners and was exhibited internationally in Mexico City, Los Angeles, New York City and Paris. His work is now represented in both public and private collections throughout the world.
Quinn had a keen eye when it came to art and books amassing an enormous collection that is housed in several buildings on his property. Hundreds of art and reference books, African masks, Tibetan sculptures and artifacts from all over the world rub shoulders with works by Matisse, Renoir, Henry Moore, Carlo Canevari and Sir Jacob Epstein among dozens of others are all brilliantly curated together.
Anthony was 70 by the time he met Katherine Quinn, who would become his third wife. She recalls that instead of resting on his accomplishments and retiring to a life of comfort and leisure he was planning projects for the next twenty years. He was rehearsing a nine-month road tour of the stage production of Zorba, working on dozens of paintings at once and having sculptures cast at five different foundries (none alone was able to handle the volume of work he was creating), all while writing scripts and books and searching for characters to play that would satisfy his driving, creative spirt.
He chose to spend the last decade of his life in a natural environment, far away from the pace and clutter of urban action with a wish to be near the water and have enough room for a growing new family and room for his collections. They eventually settled into a seaside home in Bristol, Rhode Island. Anthony continued to create and raise his family until his passing in 2001. Katherine secured special permission to have him buried in his favorite spot on the property and continues to maintain his art studio intact as he left it.
Katherine established the Anthony Quinn Foundation in 2007 to continue her late husband’s artistic legacy by supporting arts education. The foundation provides scholarship support to gifted young adults in the areas of visual arts & design as well as the performing, media and literary arts. For further information on the foundation, go to www.aqfoundation.org
And for information regarding Anthony’s paintings, sculptures, and prints, visit www.anthonyquinn.com
On February 25th, Katherine Quinn will be giving a lecture at the Newport Art Museum as part of their Winter Speaker Series sharing stories of Anthony’s life as an artist along with images of his work and photos from his creative archives. The lecture will be held in person and virtually on Zoom, and will be followed by audience Q&A and reception to follow. Click here to register.