Review: Paul Nash @ The Laing

Isobel Clark talks us through her thoughts on Paul Nash's exhibition at The Laing gallery.

Isobel Clark
25th October 2017
Image: Equivalents for the Megaliths, 1935 by Paul Nash © Tate, London 2015. Photograph © Tate, London 2016

I walk into the Laing Art Gallery with no profound art knowledge, no reviewing experience but as a student with a passion for things that force me to question. Not usually a huge fan of landscape art, I begin sceptical about how much I will enjoy the exhibition, yet I am immediately drawn in when I notice that this is no ordinary landscape art.

Symbolism and dreamlike elements are noticeable even in Nash's early work; I am particularly enthralled by ‘Visions at Evening’, where a woman’s face sits amidst the clouds. Looking at this artwork, I began to enter the surreal mind of Paul Nash.

Nash’s art exposes the ebbs and flows of his life

The biographical way that the exhibition is set up takes the viewer on a journey; Nash’s art exposes the ebbs and flows of his life. The paintings take a darker turn after his mental breakdown and fighting in WWI. The art is given deeper meaning from the side descriptions, which is enhanced by Nash’s own commentary.

Nash uses nature to represent people and ideas such as in ‘We Are Making a New World’, where bare tree trunks appear to symbolise dead bodies from the war. The emptiness in the picture, a recurring feature in the exhibition, compels the viewer. The picture hits somewhere close to home, the message seeming extremely relevant still today.

For the first time I understood  the impact of seeing an original painting rather than a photograph

For myself, the final few artworks are a major highlight, with the pictures once again ethereal and spiritual, it feels as though we have come full circle. I was taken aback by the glow of colour the paintings give off. For the first time I understood  the impact of seeing an original painting rather than a photograph. Dusty greens, peachy oranges and silky blues- there’s a childlike essence but also something wise and epic in these final works.

It seems the emotions Nash is feeling in the last chapter of his life ooze out of the art, radiating something heavenly and dreamlike that tangles in my head with the sinister, raw reality of his wartime art, and leaves me with exactly what I hoped for, a million questions.

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