Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca, better known to the world as Anthony Quinn, was the very first Mexican-American to be honored by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science with, not just one, but two Academy Awards, for his brilliant acting roles in over two hundred films, Broadway and television, plus he won the very prestigious Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award. Lesser known was the fact that he was, privately, also one of the world’s most talented painters and sculptors.
His bold, creative mind and spirit inspired us all for over sixty
years, through his brilliant and moving portrayal of hundreds of fascinating, complex characters and his vital concern for our troubled world and its needy people, but, it was his private, personal life experiences, not his public fame and celebrity that inspired his brilliant art.
He was born under the gunfire of the Revolution in Chihuahua, Mexico in 1915, to a Mexican-Irish father and Mexican-Indian mother, who both marched under the banner of Pancho Villa, and who were eventually driven north to Texas in search of peace and freedom.
Their journey took them from cardboard box hovels in El Paso, to migrant worker shacks in California, to the impoverished barrio of East Los Angeles.
His Mexican roots greatly influenced every aspect of his life, his art, and the many characters he played. While he was cast in roles as a dozen different nationalities, it was his roles as early, influential Hispanic historic figures that won him both of his Oscars.
His first Academy Award was won for his role as Eufemio Zapata in “Viva Zapata,” followed soon thereafter by his role as the French-Peruvian artist Paul Gauguin, in “Lust for Life.”
He grew up so few miles from Hollywood, but light years away from the glittering, glamorous world of movie stars that would one day bestow upon him its highest honors.
It is quite understandable, after the bitterness and harsh reality of his early youth, that he would be attracted to the fantasy world being created by the newly emerging film industry, where his father had found employment as an assistant cameraman at the old Selig Studios.
In order to help generate additional income for his family, young Anthony would wander around the studio, drawing portraits of the stars that he admired most and then present them with his efforts hoping for some recognition or reward. His models ranged from the sultry Rudolph Valentino and the Latin lover, Ramon Navarro to the swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks Sr., who was so flattered by this young boy's portrayal of him that he awarded him the princely sum of ten dollars and an artistic career was launched.
In addition to the beautiful drawings that he created as a child, he was also a talented sculptor, winning his first statewide California competition at age eleven with his sculpted bust of Abraham Lincoln; another boy born in poverty, who dedicated his life to help uplift those in need and rose to be a powerful, inspirational leader.
By his junior year in high school, his love of art and architecture had taken yet another tum. He won a contest with his architectural plan for a marketplace and received a scholarship to study with one of the greatest American architects of all time, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Mr. Quinn always had a burning desire to create beauty with his own hands. It has been said that if he were left alone on an island, hewould reconstruct the rocks. He had a need to leave his imprint, to say “I was here".
Like the rest of us who have had to work hard all of our lives to pay for our dreams, Anthony Quinn was no exception, artists have to eat too. By age eighteen, he had worked as a migrant farm worker, a taxi driver, a slaughtering butcher, a welterweight boxer making five or ten dollars a fight, and a sparring partner for the contender, Primo Carnera.
Through those experiences he came to know fighters as poets with something to prove; a way to work your way out of poverty and hunger through your own strength, a passionate spokesman for the have-nots.
Eventually his hard won dreams came true, he became an actor; but do actors have total control of their own images and destinies? On stage he spoke the words of the author, to the movements of the director, in the costumes of the wardrobe department, behind the mask of make up, against the backdrops of set designers.
In his art he was King. Every shade of color, every stroke of his brush, every contour of his sculpture was his own personal statement.
He was master of his artwork. He answered to no one. A true Renaissance man free to explore the limits of his own imagination, fed by his incredible experiences all over the world, as only a man who had risen from pain and suffering, to wealth, power and fame could have experienced it.
The wealth of styles, colors and techniques that he displayed in his art could have been the greatest life works of a dozen different artists, all different facets of the rare gem that was the multi-talented genius of Anthony Quinn.
The colors of his paintings gleam with the purest fire and clarity of emeralds, rubies and sapphires.
The bold, decisive lines of his sculptures are both sinuous and powerful, hard-edged and flowing.
His artwork reflects his deep roots in his ancient Mexican heritage and his worldly contemporary sophistication.
He created to the size of man's spirit, not his dimension.
His remarkable freedom of expression, bursting with creative energy, speaks to all men.
At first he signed his artwork with his mother's maiden name, Oaxaca, and had a sellout showing.
At the International Premiere Exhibition of his sculptures, paintings and graphics, critics, fans and serious collectors from around the world first became aware of his extraordinary fine art talents. He sold over two million dollars’ worth of his art on opening night and advance requests from this showing kept him busy for the next two years.
After that extraordinary beginning, Anthony Quinn had twenty-five more major Exhibitions of his paintings and sculptures throughout the world.
His works have been shown, to great critical and popular acclaim, at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico and Schwarzenbach Castle in Switzerland, Exhibitions in Canada, Korea and Austria, The Museum of Monterrey, Mexico, The Museo Municipal De Bellas Artes and the Centro Cultural Recoleta in Argentina and he was awarded highest honors by the Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris.
Best known to American collectors are his many highly successful exhibitions in New York, Aspen, Las Vegas, San Antonio, Houston, San Francisco, Beverly Hills and Washington D.C. where he was honored in the Oval Office by President Ronald Reagan with acceptance of two of his sculptures into the highly prestigious Presidential collection.
Just as the highest and noblest cultures and civilizations of all time continue to live on for all eternity through the great works of their architects, sculptors and painters, Anthony Quinn is destined to live on through his loving family, his magnificent sculptures and paintings, and his life's example.
Anthony Quinn left the beaten path, followed his own star, didn't go with the times, he found his own way, he shaped his own destiny and made his mark on our hearts, our minds and our souls, forever!
His legacy is honored in his Mexican birthplace, Chihuahua, with a huge bronze portrait statue occupying the middle of the plaza; in Los Angeles, with a 70-foot-tall Anthony Quinn mural, and in the annual presentation of the Anthony Quinn Award for excellence in Motion Pictures by the American Latino Media Arts (the ALMA) honoring actors and directors who promote positive portrayals of Hispanics in the media. One recipient, Andy Garcia, commented “You know Anthony Quinn is a great inspiration to me and to all of us, so the fact that his name is associated with this Award, and that my name is associated with his, is a big honor for me.”
Further research materials about his life and works can be found at California State University, Los Angeles, where Anthony Quinn’s scripts and correspondence are preserved, showing his intense involvement in the civil rights movement, his role as a panelist in the Mexican-American conference, his Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, and the awards given out in his name by the National Council of La Raza, which provides housing, education, immigration, and social services to more than four million Latinos annually.
Mr. Quinn’s artwork is in numerous prestigious, private and public collections, including one of the world’s foremost museums, “Chapultepec Castle.” Mr. Quinn was the only living artist admitted to its permanent collection of extraordinary artists. A rare tribute to one of the world’s most respected artists.