During my travels I have come to love Paul Nash as his work was so varied and always interesting whether it is about the embodying of humanity in nature; the destruction of war on the land and soul or a surrealist viewpoint of the landscape.
The news that there would be a retrospective this year was a mouthwatering prospect and I went to the first day on Wednesday.
First of all, wear a jumper – the rooms became increasingly chilly as you went through them.
Be prepared, also, to have the “open mouth” moment as some of the work was incredible to view. The Menin Road was phenomenal:
There is so much happening here, yet there are so few figures. Nash’s blasted trees play an enormous role here and the way the the background is full of action: smoke, spotlights, dark clouds shows us the tragedy of war on a large scale. As with all Nash’s works where landscape plays a part, he has moments of trying to show us that nature will prevail and you can see that with the two red plants in the foreground, rising up bravely amongst the mud and shellholes.
I’ve written before about We are Making a New World -Paul Nash
and have to say that finally seeing it up close and personal was extremely moving, but not as emotionally draining as this surprise in watercolour and ink, After the Battle.
The sharp spikes of rain criss-cross the canvas in a true vorticist style and the zigzagging path away from this horror is powerful. It took me a few minutes to realise that amongst the mayhem of the battleground, with its barbed wire fences broken, the trenches shattered by shells, were bodies of soldiers almost melting into the mud. It was quite overwhelming to see this.
The exhibition is chronological and is themed as well, which gives you an insight into how Nash moved from one style to another. He seemed always to be looking at how he could portray the feelings that he held about nature and landscape.
I had been to York the week before and checked out what they had in the permanent collection and saw that they had this but that it had gone to the Tate already:
This has to be my favourite of the whole exhibition. It was unbelievably melancholy in terms of its colour palette and the sharp geometrical shapes of the waves were so unexpected. The positioning of the viewer looking out into the expanse was perfect. Had to go back round to that one again!
Despite his early death, Nash progressed through the years with a determination to put on canvas what he felt and saw and he produced an incredible body of work in that time. This is an absolute must-see exhibition and I might just go round again!