Blackpaint 94


Paul Nash at Dulwich Picture Gallery

Got to this today; four rooms, I think, of paintings, drawings, some photographs and two collages, one of photographs, the other of wood pieces.

There was “Totes Meer”, the sea of dead German planes, “Landscape of a Dream” ( the one with the hawk),  a trench painting, which I think was”We are Building a New World” –  familiar anyway – and “Solstice of a Sunflower”, the strangely still, yellow juggernaut. The rest of the stuff was new to me, which was a surprise.

I have to say that I found the washed-out, bleached colours and the thinly-applied, dry brush strokes with occasional patches and flecks of bare canvas a bit oppressive today.  The surface of “Sunflower” ,for instance, was arid and elsewhere the paint looked sticky and dragged-on, somehow.  “Farewell” (1944) was a crooked stick against an awful, sickly lemon yellow, but mostly chalk whites, thin sky blues, light greys with here and there, as in “Dream”, a splash of plum/raspberry.  There were several empty room interiors, waiting for something to happen, with an Ernstish feel and the several “Urne Buriall”s had surrealist stock lurking about – owls, dismembered arms, birds with faces.

There was the Dymchurch stuff, purling seas on shorelines, long, slender women in long, slender 20’s dresses (in distance, back turned to viewer).  There were two early (1911 – 13) pictures called “Wittesham Clumps”, one in watercolour, ink and chalk, the other pen and ink, I believe, that were very beautiful; tree circles, very distinct but tiny, flocks of birds above them.

Photographs – tennis ball (which cropped up again in a large painting, “Event on the Downs”), standing stone, cottage, ploughed land, again with painting nearby and “Monster Tree”, a typical Nash photograph of a strange-looking natural phenomenon.  It looked to me as though the fallen tree might have been shifted a little to create the desired effect, but no doubt I’m wrong.

There was some Nicolson-ish stuff from 30 – 31 – “Opening” and “Kinetic Features” and “Nest of the Siren”, which was unremarkable except that the colours were richer and more thickly applied than the others, highlighting the general thinness and dryness elsewhere.  Another nest, this one “Nest of Stones”, worked wonderfully, because the texture of the stones was perfectly reproduced by Nash’s approach.

In the last room, larger paintings, deeper colour at last!  In “Swan Song”, a huge fly agaric mushroom with its white spotted, red cap lies broken in a wood; next to it, “Chestnut Waters” – an avenue of trees reflected in the surface of a lake; and the giant tennis ball on the Downs.

The title of the exhibition is “Elements” – a fair amount of landscape, seashore, trees, flowers, I suppose; but really the exhibition is mostly his surrealist stuff.  I suppose on another day, in another place (atmosphere at Dulwich I find rather starchy), I would have enjoyed it more – today it was washed-out, bleached, chalky, dry and thin, the titles pretentious.  So there we are; a couple of weeks ago, I was criticising Laura Cumming for having a similar beam in her eye with regard to Henry Moore.  Sometimes – but not often – the “Britishness” is too much!

Listened to Muddy Waters, “Long- Distance Call”; great antidote to Dulwich.

“I hear my phone a-ringing, sounds like a long-distance call, (*2)

Pick up my receiver, party say “Another mule kickin’ in your stall”.

Blackpaint

24.03.10

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