I can’t look at a bottle of Lucozade without feeling poorly. When I was a child my mother would always turn to a bottle of the glucose laden cure all drink as a remedy for my all too frequent colds and flu. I have never forgotten the taste, that orange cellophane wrapper and the ever present bottle by my sick-bed.
Memories and associations stay with us throughout our lives, often resurfacing when we least expect them to.
When Paul Nash arrived in Dymchurch in 1920 he was seeking what used to be called a “rest cure”. His period as a War Artist had left him psychologically scarred and frail.
Perhaps most significantly he needed inspiration, something new to look at and paint. His great war paintings such as “The Menin Road” and “We are making a New World” were created by Nash as a direct result of an emotional response to what he experienced on the frontline. The artist now needed a subject that would enable him to filter his own personal vision and his notions about the new “modern” art that was emerging from the major art capitals of Europe.
During his 5 year stay in Dymchurch Paul Nash created countless drawings, paintings and prints inspired by the seawall, a coastal barrier which forms a graceful curve around St Mary’s Bay. Some of these works are quite traditional, representational pictures, others however reveal his desire to experiment with new ideas. They show an artist working through a creative process, making what he considered a set of works. “The Shore” 1923 and “Winter Sea” 1925 are amongst his most successful Dymchurch pictures.
When Nash finally left Dymchurch in 1925 he wrote in his autobiography “We find a home of our own in Iden, goodbye to Dymchurch”. Nash took with him to Iden , not only a substantial body of work, but an indelible memory of the place where he had staged at least a partial recovery. The Dymchurch wall was to remain imprinted on his memory.
In a previous blog post I noted that Nash’s painting “Nostalgic Landscape” (started in 1923 and reworked in 1938) is formed from two seawall viewpoints. It is quite possible the picture started life as a conventional view showing the sweeping vista west towards Dungeness. The finished picture, completed in 1938, shows the old searchlight emplacement which used to be on the seawall at Willop to the east. As the name of the painting implies, Nash was inspired by his memories of Dymchurch.
There is currently a major retrospective of Nash’s work at Tate Britain. Amongst other major works by the artist is the oil painting “Totes Meer” or Dead Sea. Around 1941, as part of his work as an official War Artist, Nash visited a dump at Cowley Oxfordshire where the shattered remains of crashed German aircraft were stored . He wrote; ‘The thing looked to me suddenly, like a great inundating sea … the breakers rearing up and crashing on the plain (beach). And then, no: nothing moves, it is not water or even ice, it is something static and dead.’ This great painting showing the “sea” of smashed metal is interesting for many reasons. Something that is striking is that the composition of the picture echoes precisely that of a watercolour entitled “The Sea” 1923 painted seventeen years earlier at Dymchurch.
You could, of course argue that the composition is a standard seascape/beach/coastline format used by many artists, for example, Constable’s “Weymouth Bay”. It is generally thought that “The Sea of Ice” by Caspar David Friedrich was the inspiration for “Totes Meer” and that is entirely feasible. But for me this wonderful painting has its roots firmly planted in the Dymchurch seawall and Paul Nash’s memory.of his time spent there.
“Paul Nash” is at Tate Britain until March 2017 Go and see this terrific exhibition.