Ged Quinn: Dad With Tits (2007) at the Saatchi Gallery

Using Gilbert Stuart and Rembrant Peale’s iconic portrait of George Washington as a starting point, Quinn’s painting of the first American president takes a humorous turn towards the Freudian. Playing a semiotic game with the notion of ‘founding father’, Quinn conceives his portrait as something of an oedipal autopsy: a naked decaying corpse boasting a mumsy set of mams. Through the window a volcano, reminscent of heroic landscapes by Frederick Edwin Church, explodes with both revolutionary and sexual innuendo. The bird perched on Dad’s shoulder is a device commonly used in early Christian art to represent the departing soul of the recently deceased. This is significant as a reoccuring theme of interest: the Psychopomp or “guide of souls”, which as described in a previous post escorts newly deceased souls to the afterlife and is a mediator between the conscious and unconscious realms. The Shaman fulfils the role of psychopomp in many cultures and is symbolically represented in dreams as a wise man or as a helpful animal. A more sinister element can be identified in H.P.Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror where the Whippoorwill, a Nightjar from North and central America, features as a malign psychpomp. One New England legend says the Whippoorwill can sense a soul departing, and can capture it as it flees. This is likely related to an earlier Native American and general American folk belief that the singing of the birds is a death omen.

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