One rainy Friday afternoon in 1981, Christian Quintin, 24, of Paris bought a one-way ticket to San Francisco.
"I didn't know anyone," he said. "I got off the plane, found a hotel and began looking for work."
Within a week he was living in an old Victorian, had a job, friends and was ready to call San Francisco home for the next 10 years.
"San Francisco was so stunning and so beautiful," he said. "I loved it."
Quintin was born on the northern coast of Brittany in France. He studied briefly at the Beaux Arts in Paris before moving to the United States and continuing his artwork.
Today he works in pen and ink, pastels and oil and frequently has three projects in the works at the same time. He is represented by the Vorpal Gallery in New York and San Francisco.
But he didn't start out to be a painter.
"I wrote poetry until I was 23 and used to draw, too, but I wanted to be a poet. Now to be doing art is like writing poetry," he said in a recent interview at this Core Area home. He still writes poetry, but his main focus is art.
In 1991 Quintin married an American woman and they moved to Paris. He said people in Paris complimented him on how well he spoke French; they couldn't believe he was a native.
"I've lost my roots forever," he said. "But it's a choice you make." He and his wife lived in several different places before coming to Davis where she was earning an advanced degree at the university. When she got a job offer in Albuquerque, they moved again.
"I loved New Mexico," he said. "The desert is splendid, it's very, very beautiful." But when his marriage crumbled, Quintin decided to return to Davis, a place where he had good friends and good memories.
"It's very pleasant and easy living in Davis," he said. "I don't need an edge to do artwork. I've moved around a lot and I'm looking forward to feeling grounded again.
"People say I should move to New York to be famous, but the price you pay is living in New York."
He's been back in Davis for almost two years, working hard at his art and teaching.
"When I get up in the morning I have so much I want to do," he said. "Art is creation. You can't teach creation. You can go to art school and learn some techniques but you have to do your own art eventually. It's the passion of creation."
His artwork draws on the same inspiration as his poetry, it's just expressed in a different medium.
"I draw every day," he said. "The art I do is very surrealistic, I draw what I see and what I feel."
And, yes, he says art is like psychotherapy in his use of symbols, shadows, and colors. But don't make the mistake of thinking that a moody pen and ink drawing crammed with dead trees and images of eyes means anything tortured or negative.
He says people bring their own baggage to his work.
"People bring to my work whatever they see in it," he says.
However, he says one piece, "The Abandoned Garden," does reflect how he felt after his separation from his wife. It took several hundred hours of work to complete the piece, which sold for $3,000. Other pieces, particularly landscapes, are joyful and rich in colors.
"I'm very prolific, considering it takes so long to complete a piece," he says.
His oil paintings are as colorful and vibrant as his pen and inks are dark.
"I'm expressing the spiritual me, not just one thing," Quintin said. You can read into some of his canvases a love of nature and this observation would be correct. He is an avid hiker and camper.
"But mainly I like interpretations (of my work) to be left to the viewer," he said.
And even though art generally is not selling now in these uncertain economic times, Quintin is happy with his life.
"I am doing what I want with my life," he said "I am making my living through art and that's a great accomplishment. If I were given the chance to change my life I wouldn't know what to change."
Well, maybe he'd change one or two things. He doesn't particularly enjoy doing the business of art, meaning the self-promotion and marketing that must be done to sell the product.
"The business is the hardest part," he says. "We don't live in a society that values art. Ideally I'd like to live in a commune and I'd be the artist. Then I wouldn't have to sell at rates so high that I price people out."
He will be having two local shows next year - at the Pence in February and at the Natsoulas Gallery a year from September. If you can't wait to see his work, go to his website at www.ChristianQuintin.com. Or you could drive to the Vorpal Gallery in San Francisco where several of his works are on display.
Quintin also gives back to the muse through teaching. He has been commissioned to do three murals: one at the California Medical Facility at Vacaville, one at Markham Elementary School in Vacaville and one in the lobby of the California Youth Authority offices in Sacramento where he directs a team of young artists.
And he teaches a drawing class at Folsom Prison.
"Prison is a dark and brutal place," he said. "Don't let anyone fool you. It's full of despair and danger."
The inmates he deals with welcome outside programs.
"They really want to learn and they have a lot of emotions to express. They are given the opportunity to realize that they have more to explore in their lives than being just, let's say, a gang member. They discover a range they did not know they had.
"I have a wonderful, unique opportunity to meet people at a deep level. We share great emotions. It's not always easy but it's intense and our exchanges can be profound."
Quintin says he has to have an exciting life, even if it's only exciting inwardly, to create his work.
"You can't be bored and create great work," he said. "And I always want to create something whether it's happy or sad, and it has to be well-crafted, well-executed."
To reach Quintin, phone his studio at 753-7902 or his web site at www.ChristianQuintin.com.
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