Paul Nash, Tate Britain Exhibition, Feb 2017
Just managed to catch the exhibition two weeks before it closed. Typical me!
We visited shortly after the David Hockney exhibition opened, which seems to be hugely successful already but were pleasantly surprised at the numbers visiting Nash.
I knew some of his work as a War Artist, probably the most obvious ones! Also some he did of/at Dymchurch and maybe a couple of ‘scenic’ works. For me the exhibition was brilliant in moving through the years as he worked and showing his origins as an artist and all through his developmental styles over the 30-odd years of his career. He trained as an artist and it was pleasing to read that he encouraged his brother to paint too, who also became well known and still is.
What surprised me, was some early poetry Paul wrote and later some illustrations for a collection of war poems. Most artists then and now do book illustrations and jackets but his had passed me by. I always like woodcuts and their like for the finite definition on the page.
His very early work and influence was William Blake’s art and poetry but he moved on, developing (changing) his style and several works show a concentration on watercolours and local scenes, including a clump of three Elm trees at the bottom of his childhood garden. I fear they will have been killed off by Dutch elm disease many years ago but at least they will have survived in another form at least as Nash did several studies of them.
It’s always a great pleasure to me when I can make some sort of connection and it was happily made when I came across one in his most recognisable styles (for me), what I call his ‘lumpy’ style which is moving towards his method as a War Artist in WW1 but, unsurprisingly, more relaxed and summery; landscapes of Ivinghoe Beacon and another nearby view.
Following on into his so recognisable war paintings ( esp. We Are Making a New World, 1918) and it’s elements of cubism. Following works showed how in the following years he was picking up and experimenting with artistic movements from the continent. Surrealism found a long resonance with him, as in ‘found’ art, dreams and now including the media of photography and collage.
His work as a War Artist in WW2 didn’t find favour with the War Office but his movement towards ‘Objects in strange places’ can be seen in his pictures of crashed fighter planes and into abstract and symbolism over the following few years before his death. ( back to Blake in thinking if not quite style.)
His most famous painting is probably Totes Meer, painted 1940-41 and residing in tate Britain but alongside this I would put Battle of Germany 1944 as it is seemingly more abstract and softer in tone than the former but powerful to stand before and understand the ‘design’.
My favourite of the non-WW1 or Dymchurch series (many of which I like, such as The Shore1923, but their emotional weight is a bit heavy en-masse) is probably the abstract from his later period but before WW2; Voyages of the Moon 1934-7……. though I have to hark back to second-place for Ivinghoe Beacon.
The last two of the exhibition highlighted his interest in the significance of the sun and moon throughout his career. Always of mystic appeal as seen in his early work similar to Blake but here on a much larger scale in oil of visionary landscapes and the pre-eminence of sun and moon. Landscapes that include a traditional activity transformed into a wheeling sunflower/come burning sun tearing down the hillside instead of the sky Another with aerial flower composition to link with his long held interest in flight. It was evident that his feelings of a ‘life-force’ in inanimate objects stayed with him all his life, a belief in the genius loci (spirit of place). Something that many people have an awareness of but perhaps are less willing to accept in themselves.
As always I like his b&w illustrations, woodcuts and the like but they don’t have the influence of his bigger works. There was perhaps too few of these variations of his work but the need for display cabinets would have distracted from the movement around the room. However, the Tate Britain website says they have 205 of his works. I dont know how many are on display but well worth searching them out on a visit now the particular exhibition is ended.
The fact that he was brought up in South Bucks and is buried in a Langley churchyard, both but a very few miles from where I was brought up is another connection I was happy to have made. What is sad is the length of time it has taken me to find out! However there must be a million things I don’t know and have never missed knowing so I have an awful lot to look forward to!
Edward Bawden at the Higgins museum and art Gallery, Bedford
Just had a browse around the Higgins Museum and Art Gallery where there has been a huge refit and re-design of the gallery and museum. The Edward Bawden exhibition includes items he gifted from his studio contents and the other display is of a collection of prints: ‘Master of Print’ mostly of modern artists (Picasso et al). It is select but of superb quality and interest. I have to wish there was a bigger display of Bawden’s work but the space is limited. The Bawden exhibition does’t finish until end of January, 2018.
Jump on a train to Bedford and spend a good hour or three there. Aim for the artworks but the museum side will also steal time from you for its room settings in period style and collections of everyday items as well as assorted art designs from around the turn of the 19th century and forwards. Not forgetting the local archaeology and town development of industry and people as you walk through.
Two gallery visits in a week eh!