The fiery red sun, the round white moon, the ancient stand of trees and the lapping shoreline: recurring elements of a symbolic landscape that appears both uncannily familiar and strangely other-worldly. In Paul Nash’s world you see the confluence of the pastoral and the surreal, the metaphysical language of De Chirico infused with the spirits of Blake and Wordsworth. His objects (pillars, balls, mirrors, frames) exist in timeless isolation, drawn from the unconscious with dream-like clarity and bathed in a kind of spectral luminescence. They hover between night and day, casting long dark shadows that recede into un-peopled spaces. There is perpetual sense of passing over, from one world to another, or from one season to another, a liminal terrain over which birds hover like silent messengers and where paths, steps and tunnels run along sea walls or through wooded enclosures.
The pictures become places of entry and return, where the border between inside and outside, between the domestic and the wild, is continually transgressed: waves roll across floors, forest tracks recede through walls and doors, and branches spread over ceilings. The eye moves constantly back and forth, between concrete form and uncertain space, between the near and far, between the real and imagined. It is strangely arresting, this land of the foreign and familiar, and perhaps easier to see in terms of a tradition that looks to the past rather than the future, although you can sense its recurrence, amongst more recent British painters of singular vision, in the haunting images of Victor Willing.
Victor Willing, Navigation, c1978
Paul Nash: The Elements. Dulwich Picture Gallery, 10 February - 9 May 2010.