Paul Nash

Paul Nash: Ghosts of War

Paul Nash is not a name I instantly recognised, but there is a vague familiarity about his work. I may have seen it somewhere, or it might just be that his work is a similar style to someone else I’ve seen - I’m terribly aware that I don’t know enough painters, being very photography-centric in terms of what I look at, although I’m sure that will change in the coming years.

Not knowing much about Nash, I suppose I should have expected a turn to Surrealism from his background, his love of “absurd” classics of English literature, such as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, coupled with his wartime experiences in the trenches at Flanders. In terms of his war art, he is accredited in the programme as inventing a new form, based on the landscape but I see this as being similar in many respects as the photography of Roger Fenton, particularly his piece
Valley of the Shadow of Death from the Crimea in 1855

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Roger Fenton,
Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) - from The Getty website


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Paul Nash,
Wire (1918-1919) - from the Tate website.

Both images depict the aftermath of the battle, both images are devoid of people and both images give an indication of the trauma that will have been experienced there, Nash’s piece more so, perhaps due to the duration and the nature of the battle, perhaps because of the more figurative and interpretive nature of the media. Nash’s work bores deeper into the realms of nightmare in his representation of the wounded land, there are hints of the future Surrealism, whereas Fenton is much straighter, it’s documentary (although Errol Morris has something to say about his methods).

This work relates in many ways to my current thoughts on projects. True to say they’re not really progressing at the moment, but I see parallels in my mind’s eye;
Some Unholy War ties itself to the surreal and nightmarish in some ways, while the landscape is something I intend to be returning to for a later project, for year 2 in all probability as it will take time to achieve it as I intend to be travelling all over the country to achieve it.

So, the documentary may not have told me everything there is to know about Nash, but it proved interesting and relevant. It was also a springboard into some other research that will likely follow as I work my way through the MA. There’s another couple in the series too, so who knows what they might inspire.

Paul Nash:The Ghosts of War. 2014 [Video Streaming] Patrick Dickinson. Danny Katz Productions.
located at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04j2ywv/british-art-at-war-bomberg-sickert-and-nash-1-paul-nash-the-ghosts-of-war (accessed 20/09/2014)

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