Friday, February 26, 2010

Paul Nash: The Elements

Paul Nash: The Elements 10 February 2010 - 9 May 2010 at The Dulwich Picture Gallery

I've fallen madly in love with Paul Nash and after reading the reviews, I realize I am not alone (see below).  If you live in London, please run to see this exhibition and do report back.

He's described in the same breath as Blake and  Samuel Palmer and his work is reminiscent of Charles Burchfield; finding the divine in nature.  He's called a surrealist, a war artist, a visionary. He depicted the horror of war but at the same time he liked the chalky downs of England, found the ancient there, and the magical.

This is from the review in The Telegraph:

Paul Nash is a peculiar, and peculiarly British, artist. Born in London in 1889, he lived a modest, itinerant life, staying with friends, or renting houses dotted across southern England. He became obsessed with features in the local landscape, such as the stone circles at Avebury, or chalky Ballard Down in Dorset, and always felt a profound connection with the history of his homeland. In his early twenties, he was already writing to a friend about the "strange enchantment" of the prehistoric earthworks at Wittenham Clumps in Oxfordshire, "a beautiful, legendary country haunted by old gods long forgotten".


his landscapes, many of which can be seen here, offer a curious blend of ancient and modern, of the hoary spirit of Albion dressed in up-to-the-minute fashions. A painting by Nash is at once timeless and unmistakably of its time: the artist conjured a rough-hewn, druidic magic, but his spells were cast in a 20th-century idiom. 
Whiteleaf Cross, The Chilterns

And this from Time Out:

his famous depiction of the rutted battlefields and scorched trees of Ypres, 'We Are Making a New World' of 1918, is as poetic as TS Eliot's 'Wasteland'


From solstice to equinox, night to day, Nash made his seas sing and his trees whistle.

People get very excited by Paul Nash's work. Note this, from the review in The Independent:
Still, the work is so spellbinding, it raises a question of belief. It goes beyond symbolism, beyond a theatrical shiver. It asks you, quite seriously: do you believe in ghosts?
Ghosts. All right, it's not the right word. I don't mean something white and flitting, or an armoured man with his head held under his arm. The presences in Nash-world are something far less defined and less definable. It is haunted all through. Or that's partly it. But I'm not sure that even Nash found the right words for his spell.
In his essay "The Life of the Inanimate Object", he wrote about "the endowment of natural objects, organic but not human, with powers or personal influences..."
And you have to love this (from the same review):

Nash gives us the kind of feeling that crop circles gave us, when they first appeared and their status was still obscure and unaccountable.

(h/t boojum: had i not read her FB update, i would not have known about this exhibit)


thelma said...

Your blog about Paul Nash reminded me of the exhibition that came to the Victoria gallery in Bath in 2008, the paintings represented 'Ancient Landscapes, Pastoral Visions' and mostly they were the paintings of 'The Ruralists' - think about the 60s they came into being. Anyway they lived as a group near Wellow in Somerset...but not to digress too far away, the first painting that hit you in the eye as you came through the door was Paul Nash's 'Eclipse of the Sun', and there were several others, the link is at the bottom of this blog... His paintings are very striking and modern even today

Hannah Stoneham said...

Thank you for posting this splendid piece on Paul Nash. What a wonderful artist he was and the Dulwich exhibition is ecellent - one more week left to run for those who have not yet seen it and are able to do so!

If you are interested in Paul nash, there is an excellent book called "A Crisis of Brilliance" by David Boyd Haycock which is really worth looking at. It looks at Paul Nash in the context of his other (famous) contemporaries at the Slade and the effect that the war had on them all... it is a sort of collective biography and very good for setting the work of these artists in context.

Also - for those who are based in and around London there is a wonderful related exhibition on at the moment - a retrospective of the work of Rupert Lee at Gallery 27 (details are on my blog - I went on Monday). Rupert Lee was also at the Slade at the same time as Nash, Stanley Spencer, Mark Gertler & co - and he was also in the trenches and produced some really interesting trench art. He and Paul Nash were extremely close friends (until their friendship was completely destroyed by personal dramas) and influenced oneanother - so Rupert Lee is a kind of "mising link" in the history of Nash and this group of artists....

It has been a great pleasure to discover this blog