'Quinn's mythology, as he encodes and layers a complex, dense, but art historically meticulous succession of visual and cultural puns and quotations, deep within the resonant, yielding surface of his work, is one in which sly mischief is at work.' (M. Bracewell, in Ged Quinn, London 2008, p. 8).
In Ged Quinn's exquisitely rendered Camp, the mischievous artist turns his sardonic gaze to the tradition of Dutch flower painting. Dutch flower paintings, a classic 17th century genre of 'vanitas' paintings - artworks designed to metaphorically remind viewers of the brevity of life and youth - are perfect fodder for Quinn's subversive artistic interferences. Camp is entrancingly detailed, a painstakingly precise rendering of an enormous bouquet of diverse flowers carefully arranged in a highly polished vase. Set against a darkened background, the flowers seem impossibly vivid and vibrant, inviting the viewer to luxuriate in all their delicately painted finery. But as the saying goes: 'the Devil is in the details'; the tenet is never truer than when in reference to Quinn's intellectually trick-some paintings. A closer inspection of the bouquet - which the densely detailed painting alluringly invites - reveals that something is amiss: these flowers are not captured in the perfect moment of full-bloom. The petals have begun to darken and curl outwards, the blossom heads to fall gracefully downwards, one resting gently on the marble counter. In the foreground, a fragile dead cricket pulls in its legs - he has sung his last summer song. The glossy vase containing this complex bouquet is polished to such a high sheen that it appears to reflect the space behind the viewer, a space characterized by a lofty, but barred, window. The vase itself is decorated with a ghostly, skeletal pattern from which the painting draws its name - these faint lines are not an abstract geometric decoration, but rather a minute map of the Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz. The temporally illogical combination of a 17th century genre painting with a reference to a 20th century historical event creates a highly surrealist atmosphere, and casts a more serious tone on the seemingly innocent image of a wilting bouquet.
This subversion of art historical genres is typical of Quinn's practice, which generally embeds anachronistic details into familiar art-historical imagery. Like his contemporary John Currin, Quinn's revisitations prompt reflection upon the political and theological ideologies that structure such idealistic allegory. The disarming effectiveness of such manipulation perhaps recalls one of the essential maxims of Romantic art as expounded by Johan Wolfgang von Goethe: 'True art can spring only from the most intimate connection between "Earnest and Play." Play and Earnest are thus elevated into leitmotifs of artistic creation.' (B. Buberl quoted in M. Bracewell, Ged Quinn, London 2008, p. 11). Quinn's re-appropriation of typical elements of the pious vanitas paintings can certainly be understood as playful, but the underpinning questions the work poses are asked in deadly earnest.