Britain has a long tradition of war artists, producing bombastic heroic pro-British propaganda. What makes Paul Nash different, and his contemporaries, is he was a war artist painting a war he was actually fighting, in his case the first world war. This understandably gives his paintings a very different and more interesting feel. He is currently on display at Tate Britain until 5th March 2017. The images below are from the Tate Website.
Desolation mud and death. There is nothing glorious about the warfare depicted here. There is a particularly powerful sketch (a copy of which I could not find) showing skeletal soldiers dead on the battlefield. Dominating this portion of the exhibition is a very large picture called the Menin Road (top left). The blocky nature and the strong lines. I particularly like the one the right which is called Spring in the Trenches. The contrast between some of the bright colours and the desolation and the bored soldiers.
I like painting landscapes with incongruous things in them. I was therefore immediately attracted to Nash's post war stuff, odd piles of wood, blocky landscapes and enormous tennis balls next to ominous blocks of wood. Mushroom like edificies. Great stuff. During this period he was the founder member of Unit 1 which included illustrious people such as Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore and others of a similar ilk. In one of the rooms is a smattering of their work. My favourite of them who was new to me was Eileer Agar who produces abstracted landscape.
Then the 2nd world war intervenes. This produces an interesting circularity in Nash's career in that he now becomes an official war artist, now no longer serving and firmly part of the establishments. One of the best things he produces from this period is a series of watercolours of crashed German planes and the stunning image of this graveyard of German bombers, deliberately abstracted to make them look like the sea. I am less sure about the abstract depiction of the Battle of Germany (above right).
One of my other interests is archaeology and especially stone circles. I was therefore delighted to find Nash has a similar interest producing a number of works on this theme. The above right is called Equivalents for the Megaliths. This nicely combines the two themes of odd things in landscapes. Above right is a version of Avesbury circle. I quite like how he has depicted the stones.
Nash developed into surrealism of which three are shown above. My favourite of these is the top left of these. In fact this was my favourite piece in the entire show. It is called Harbour and Room. I stared at it for quite some time. I have to say it delighted me. I like the concept of the Harbour inside a room. The ship intruding through the wall. It reminds me I think of the excellent book Weatherworks. The strange changes in scale, the reflection of the wallpaper in the mirror. Smoothly quite thickly applied paint and the pastel-ish palette complete this composition.
This surrealism continues and particular favourites were the Flight of the Magnolia, like a strange alien eruption flying over the sea. There is also a pair of pictures of which the Eclipse of the Sunflower. Black and gold is always good.
Sorry for the slightly incoherent ramblings. It is a good show though. I enjoyed it. I found it very inspiring.
William John Mackenzie
I am an artist with a specialism in landscapes and still life. My contact details are here.