How best to summarise the achievement of Paul Nash? There is so much. We think we know him from those iconic paintings of the desolation of the First World War, or the famous Surrealist Landscape from a Dream in the Tate, or his more recognisably English landscapes, or the Second World War painting Totes Meer. But then there are his wood engravings, and his book illustrations, and delicate works on paper, and more commercial design work. English landscape painter or Surrealist? Romantic or Modern? Abstract or figurative?
Andrew Causey’s hugely insightful new study of Paul Nash, my Book of the Week, suggests that such narrow categories are unhelpful in Nash’s case. It is a book which works hard to draw out the complexities and contradictions of the man and his art. You get the sense of an artist with a personal vision who was not afraid to find his own way and to push his art in new directions when things seemed to be getting too easy. This was, after all, a man who in 1928, having reached a successful point in his career painting popular landscapes, switched to a more personal but also more difficult art because he feared popularity.
Landscape is the thread which runs through the book in complex, evolving interpretations: early drawings of mythical and archetypal landscapes; what Causey calls ‘landscapes of the mind’, in which the boundaries between dream and reality are fluid; the scarred landscapes of war; and landscapes populated with strange, inanimate objects – fragments, fossils, bones and stones – which the artist brings to life. Landscape, and the Life of Objects.
If Andrew Causey’s new book catches your imagination, don’t miss two new shows of Nash’s work: Paul Nash: The Clare Neilson Collection is on at Pallant House until 30 June, and A Crisis of Brilliance (featuring the early work of Nash and his Slade contemporaries) opens at Dulwich Picture Gallery on 12 June.
Lucy Myers, Managing Director
Paul Nash: Landscape and the Life of Objects by Andrew Causey. 2013. Hardback. 168 pages. 100 colour and 42 b&w illustrations. £35 / $70