BY : ABSTRACT | May 23, 2023
Northern Rivers region of New South Wales, Australia
SAXON JJ QUINN — start-ups, New York, music, cement, sketches from childhood, criticism
This time, we're in conversation with Saxon JJ Quinn. He artistry portrays grime, wear, and resilience, extracting beauty from objects we often choose to overlook. He merges styles and techniques to create works that urge us to pause, observe, and reflect.

In 2023, his pieces will be showen on internationally renowned platforms, including shows in New York, Los Angeles, Brisbane, Toronto, London, Copenhagen, Madrid, and Melbourne. Of particular note was his participation in the 'Future Primitive' project in New York, where his where his unique compositions combine elements of space and pop culture.

We'll be going behind the scenes of his creative process to better comprehend how his life journey and personal experiences are echoed in his artistry.

Tell us a little about yourself, your previous work and how your artistic career started.

My name is Saxon (Sax) and I'm a 36 year old self-taught artist with a background in Visual Design.

I grew up in country Victoria, Australia in a town called Allendale with a population of around 300 people (back then) I was surrounded by art and creativity since the day I was born. My mother - Dianne Coulter, also an artist, has had a large studio and gallery on the family property since he was born, My late father was a graphic designer and part-time artist.

I began to paint in 2017, after my return from living in NYC, my first few series of works were cement based paintings - taking a cue from the asphalt sprawl streetscapes of NYC and cities around the world. I love the way cement decays on walls, pavements and roads over time and wanted to harvest this rawness in my works.

Since then I have moved on to use heavy raw canvas for my works, whilst still destressing and scuffing the pieces to keep that true rawness. Currently my works reference my childhood, friends, family, influences and how materialistic objects can hold value when young and trying to fit in. Other than the face-value meaning of my marks and works, from the very beginning each and every piece has acted as a healing method (I know this has been said a million times) but for me I really do feel at peace when I paint, painting is my time to escape…In my otherwise cluttered and pinball-like mind, painting gives me the opportunity to stop, focus, relax and enjoy the process of creating. The more I paint, the more I feel that my works represent that balance. Amongst the rough and sporadic, there's a sense of calm and balance. I want to continue to harvest this and express it.
Can you share more about your experience living in NYC and how it influenced your art career?

Sure, I used to own a couple of start-ups with my best mate, these were side hustles to bring in $$$, one of which (Piclay) went surprisingly well and it allowed us to move around a bit.

When we first started the company in 2014 we would always talk about moving abroad (NYC) and enjoying the city as well as building business relationships. Fast forward to mid-2015, we decided to pack up and move to NYC, we arrived in a shitty little Mid-Town Airbnb where we lived for a couple of months before moving on to LES. After 3 or so months my mate moved to Detroit to be with his now wife and I moved to Flatbush, right across from Prospect Park. I spent the majority of my time walking the streets of Flatbush, Manhattan, and Greenpoint/Williamsburg - Visiting galleries, cafes, restaurants, and bars - fully immersing myself in the city, with the odd after-hours kick-on in Bushwick. I absolutely loved my time there and the people I met.

It was a combination of things that influenced me, not just visually but emotionally also;
The fast-paced nature of the city, everyone hustling, the age, wear, and tear of buildings, footpaths, stoops etc, the Thursday evening gallery walks, people and more.

I began painting with cement over ply, this was a direct influence of the patina of surfaces. I have always been satisfied and fascinated with the way things age and the beauty in the traditionally Non-beautiful decay of cement and materials. This treatment can still be found in my work today and as far back as when I used to work in fashion and publication design.
How do you usually start your working day at the studio, do you have any daily ritual?

I will only begin a new piece or paint in general if I have a clean slate - No other obligations, or distractions.. I must also be in the right headspace (Joyce and happy haha). I won't paint if I'm feeling a little out of it, distracted, or in a shitty mood (this may change over time but for now I love painting when I'm feeling good)

If I'm starting a new body of work, I will generally wreck a couple of pieces to begin the process - A bit of a ritual for re-setting and blasting away any pent-up exploration that isn't indicative of what I am striving for.

What kind of music is usually played in your studio?

It changes from day to day, depending on how I'm feeling - Right now I'm listening to a mixture of Fred Again, ASAP Ferg, Meyhem Lauren, Colter Wall, older Caribou, Action Bronson, Alt-J, The Streets and bunch of other stuff. I also sometimes just throw on an easy Spotify Mix like Low Fi or Mellow Beats.

Three artists who inspired you the most?

Cy Twombly, Jenny Brosinski, and Richie Culver - Richie more so for his way of approaching the industry or at least how I see his work.

Are there any other forms of art or creative outlets that you enjoy exploring outside of painting?

Nothing else really, I'd love to say I play an instrument but that's still on my todo list.

What is the indicator of a successful artist for you personally?

Someone who paints what they want, it draws the attention of others and it's divisive in some way. And their works sell - well.

Tell us about your work, about the process, and what ideas you put into the painting.
I work in multiple stages beginning with unprimed heavy-weight canvas, I stain each yard with dirt, oils, ink, and diluted pigments using brooms, brushes, and powered and hand spray guns, I then work on 4 - 5 works simultaneously over the course of a number days/weeks where I begin marking and painting symbols, references and patterns reflecting life, ideas, and inspiration, I am forever trying to harvest the naive approach to evoke discussion whether it's good or bad - I love the comment 'I could have done that' or 'this is shit, my kid could do better' as there is true method to the madness. Along with the naivety of the markings, they also hold meanings, many reflecting the insecurities of growing up and trying to fit in through materialistic objects, status, music, etc.

How do you handle critiques or negative comments about your artwork, especially when they question its complexity or artistic value? How do you see these comments as contributing to the overall discussion around your work?

I enjoy these comments more than the positive ones generally, they can be humorous but also evoke a strong emotion in the writer (potentially).. or they are just trolling. Positive comments for the most part are short and sweet and what you would hope for, but the negative comments can catch you off guard and (sometimes) humble you.

I've had to learn positive criticism from negative, and to step back and appreciate both.

Someone wrote "People actually pay for this shit" - I loved this.

Looking ahead, are there any specific themes or concepts that you're excited to explore in your future artwork? Are there any new techniques or materials you're interested in incorporating into your process?

I'm really enjoying where I am at with my work, I feel like now I'm really finding my groove as to the style that best represents me. I'm loving exploring my childhood imagination that's been kept in old notebooks, it's a nice juxtaposition of the immature thoughts and emotions to the current ones I have as an adult.

Some large form sculptures could be cool, incorporating the simple faces I mark on my works, Im also creating a couple of ceramic heads for Sydney Contemporary and Saint Cloche in September for our solo show.

What are you working on now, are there any exhibitions planned in the near future?

I'm currently working on two solo shows for later in the year, the first half of the year has been a bit nuts with a number of shows through North America and Aus.

Currently (18 May) I've a group show on in LA as well as a trio show in LA and a group show opening in NYC this Friday at IRL which I'm really keen for. Then aside from the solo shows, I have a group in Melbourne, Copenhagen, and Brisbane opening next month.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists who are just starting out in their artistic careers?

Be patient, focus on developing work, and don't jump the gun. Allow yourself to explore to find your feet, and then, if you're wanting to exhibit - hustle, hustle, hustle. Galleries can be funny and a little bit too old-school... Lots don't accept submissions from artists, which can make it really hard, but what I have found is that I just continue to pester all of them, 9 times out of 10, in the beginning, they won't even reply, and the one that does says 'We're not accepting unsolicited applications, bla bla bla' - but with each year that past and each show that I was able to gain, it opened more doors.

To view the artist's work featured in our catalog.