Wednesday, 10 March 2010

the elements

The National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne where I grew up and spent a large part of my life has a substantial and often surprising collection. Substantial because the Felton Bequest made it by far the most remunerated gallery in Australia; surprising because, despite largely conservative governing bodies up until the late fifties, there was always a maverick like Darryl Lindsay prepared to chance something different. Because of this the NGV has in its collection one of Paul Nash’s late solstice/equinox paintings. There’s another in the Walker Gallery in Liverpool, one in Ottowa and a further work in the Queen’s Collection, London (top, above). The last two of these were on display at Dulwich Picture Gallery’s show ‘Paul Nash: The Elements’. People tend to argue one way or another as to whether Nash was a Surrealist or a Neo-Romantic. What is clear from an overview of his work is that elements of the uncanny were present from the beginning. An early pen and ink work, ‘The Cliff to the North’ (1912) with its elongated shadow in the foreground anticipates De Chiroco’s similar presences. But rather than see these works as Surrealist avant la lettre, they could perhaps be viewed as latter-day products of Symbolism, redolent perhaps of Redon. Then again Nash’s training as an illustrator would have given certain access to an already weird world of English book design. It’s easy enough to play around with categories but what this ignores is the consistency of Nash’s development. Right at the beginning he was drawing Wittenham Clumps, the landscape feature that returns in the solstice paintings produced in the mid forties, a year or two before his death. The Dulwich exhibition offers much to meditate on and includes Nash’s photography (lower, above) as well as the paintings and graphic works.

No comments: