Great works: Cross in the Wilderness (2003-4) by Ged Quinn

Tate, London

Occasionally a contemporary painter will indulge in weirdly anachronistic and utterly engrossing plays of historical association. When we try to date this forested scene on our pulses, our first instinct is to say: German Romanticism at the turn of the 19th century; the lonely, soulful woods, mountainscapes and skyscapes of Caspar David Friedrich, for example, which were often inhabited by self-absorbed beings. Except that there is no human being here, and this painting was made just a decade ago.

Had it been created in an earlier century, it would scarcely have been regarded as a legitimate pictorial enterprise at all because at first glance it seems to have almost no theme. It consists of little other than this extraordinarily tall screen of forest, so dense that we have no hope of seeing through it to a less oppressive scene. We want the scene to rise and fall – that would give us pleasure – but it does not do so. It comes on at us, relentlessly foreboding; in fact, it almost presses against our eyeballs. No, nothing is stirring here.

The proportions of the work rather unnerve us too, the sheer tallness of the trees, their blockish unassailability. Had the painting been a little wider, and a little less tall, we might not have suffered such tremors of apprehension. But it is these sinister games of scale that disturb us most of all. What is this architectural structure that is partially concealing itself amid all these fragments of lopped tree limbs? Why is it so small, and why, by comparison, do these anorexically thin trees soar so high behind it? Surely both cannot be true. Their respective scales are utterly at odds with each other.

And then there is that strange structure itself, part felled signpost in a wood, part perverse rendering of a thickened out cruciform shape, with the strewings of branches and twigs posing as some kind of ghostly reminder of Christ's crown of thorns.

This is in fact a miniaturised version of Dachau concentration camp. An ever-burgeoning seedling of pure evil, then.

About the artist: Ged Quinn

Ged Quinn, painter and sometime musician, was born in Liverpool in 1963, though his training as a painter was Europe-wide. He studied at the Ruskin School of Drawing in Oxford, the Slade, London, the Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf and the Rijksakademie in Amsterdam. He now lives and works in Cornwall with his partner and four children. He played keyboards in the Liverpudlian band, the Wild Swans, and co-wrote The Lotus Eaters' hit single, "The First Picture of You".

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea