Excerpt from "Deaf, illiterate and self-trained, and with a perspective all his own," Kenneth Baker, Saturday, March 24, 2007
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"EEEEE ..." at MM: I thought of two things when I saw the work of Midwestern artist Justin Quinn at MM Galleries.

First, George Perec's novel "A Void," written in French (later translated into English) entirely without use of the letter "e."

Quinn makes typographic compositions, many of which resemble concrete poems, using strings of printed or drawn characters. He restricts himself exclusively to "e," lower and upper case.

Second, I recalled the chance-dictated 1960 poem from "Stanzas for Iris Lezak" in which Jackson Mac Low (1922-2004) culled from the opening pages of "Moby-Dick" sequences of words whose first letters spell out "Call me Ishmael."

Quinn also uses "Moby-Dick" as a source of inspiration and structure for the drawings, collages and prints that make up his show. His work respects the structure of the novel but only at the level of orthography.

In "Five-Word Phrases or 2,351 times E" (2006), he has scattered the page with staccato strings of E's, each replacing, character by character, a five-word phrase found in Melville's novel.

Sometimes the viewer must merely wonder whether the figures on Quinn's pages somehow mirror or translate images in the novel.

A few pieces, such as the drawing "Chapter 44 or 9,200 times E" (2004), tempt us to think we see their visual logic. The chapter opens with an account of Captain Ahab handling the coiled, creased charts on which he obsessively plots and replots his pursuit of Moby Dick. We might imagine we see an end-on view of those bundled pages in the pattern Quinn has drawn.

The eye that follows Quinn's graphic lead jumps between looking and reading involuntarily. Deliberately reading grows more difficult as the mind's ear begins to hear "EEEE EEE EEEEEE ..." and so on as a relentless keening.

For all the manifest absurdity and obsessiveness of Quinn's work, it leaves you suspecting that he knows more than you do about what it means to dwell in a beloved book.

Sculptor Tara Thacker makes an obvious complement to Quinn's work at MM to the degree that some of her abstract work in porcelain involves production of many small similar units. But her hand-size unique objects -- forms that look like shells of extinct or uncataloged crustaceans -- make a more affecting impression.

This article appeared on page E - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle

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