I had a wonderful chance on Saturday to spend the whole day in London – firstly, and mainly, attending the Church of England’s Education Conference (en titled “Bringing the Vision Alive”) at Church House in Westminster, attended by 300 luminaries and less-than-luminaries, and finding that that generated a huge number of questions and few answers – I will come to that shortly, probably in the next post.
Secondly, I spent two hours at the end of the day at the Tate, viewing the fantastic Paul Nash exhibition that has been running since November and which paradoxically, answered more questions in my mind than the conference had.
The Nash exhibition is over 9 rooms and is on until 5 March, and is a must see. It is the first major exhibition of his work since the Tate Liverpool put one on over 10 years ago. I love his drawing and painting and it is absolutely English. What was particularly wonderful for me was to see a range of his painting that I had not done before: still life compositions, room interiors, and some of the work he did when he had a flat opposite St Pancras. In particular, there were some beautifully composed paintings with drawing instruments in the foreground.
The identifying feature of Nash to me is his palette – full of subdued, particularly un-Mediterranean colours, but sometimes startlingly bright in his use of reds and oranges. I loved every minute of it and may go back again if I get a chance – an hour and a half was not enough to explore everything. His-well-known dreamscapes and his obsession with the moon were constant themes, along with the well-known war pictures from both wars (he died in 1946), and the curation is excellent, especially if, like me, you are familiar with the majority of his well-known paintings: it was generally helpfully chronological, but not at the expense of developing themes in his work.
Nash, in his paintings, poses questions about landscape and place, constantly challenging what it is we see there and forcing the viewer to look beyond the surface of what we see to a lived reality behind it. Even the surrealist work – most famously with geometric shapes dumped in a Sussex chalk landscape – help us think again and again about who has lived here, the significance of space and place for those who did live there and what they made of their lives. And like the landscapes of Georgia O’Keeffe, they are more powerful in the original, with different meanings, than when you see a postcard or a print.
For years we had a print of Nash’s Wood on the Downs hanging over the mantelpiece in our house in Shrewsbury, but only on Saturday did I find that Nash had painted it on Ivinghoe Beacon, which we now know well and often walk on. Even the knowledge of that fact makes the significance of the painting greater, strangely, as though a painter has deliberately taken the time to tell me more, deepen my understanding, of a landscape that has existed for millennia, so that I know more of its significance.
It was helpful to see the paintings after the conference, probably because there was an incompleteness about the work of the conference, whilst with Nash’s paintings, there is constantly a finishedness, a completion and a narrative in his work that by the time I left, felt like someone had resolved a chord to a tune stuck in my head.
More on the conference itself in the next post.