An interesting Block of Concrete

In the 1970s the Tate Gallery bought a sculpture called “EquivelantVIII” by American Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre. “The Bricks” as they became affectionately known, caused national outrage. In this country we love being indignant about artworks, don’t we? “Waste of taxpayers money” ,”Could have built a new hospital”, “My 4 year old could have…” etc   and so on….

Those pesky bricks… Equivelant VIII Carl Andre Tate Gallery

I’m digressing slightly, I want to talk about a block of concrete that appeared as the subject of a Paul Nash painting in 1922. as far as I know there was not (and never has been) a public outcry against this particular artwork. In fact it was well received and Frank Rutter of the Sunday Times called it ” One of the best oil paintings Mr Nash has yet exhibited.”

When Nash arrived for his 5 year stay in Dymchurch, he was, as most people know, in a poor state of mind. His experience of the atrocities of war first hand left the artist with what was diagnosed as “War Strain”. He saw the quiet little village as a place to recuperate and to reinvigorate his artistic ideas.

Nash spent many hours on the seawall working, thinking and gazing at the constant ebb and flow of the daily tides. It is said that on occasions his wife Margaret would have to go out and remind him to return home.

At the High Knocke end of the seawall there is an outfall, part of the Marsh drainage system, there is also another outfall near the main slipway (see earlier Blog).  Above the High Knocke outfall there lies an enormous concrete pier or platform, this forms the point at which the outfall joins the wall. Nash became interested in this block and by his own admission struggled to paint it in relation to the curves of the seawall. Eventually he wrote that he had;  ‘ found a way to solve the equation of that damned block house and the curve of the steps and the curve of the sky’.

The end of the steps today

The final result is an odd painting. The green fronted monolith sits defiantly. It has no real features, but despite its anonymous nature, it has a sort of anthropomorphic presence and sits dominantly in the centre of the picture, like a giant man-made full stop at the end of the seawall steps.

“The End of the Steps” 1922

My belief is that the large block we see today at  the end of the original concrete seawall is that same feature,  its algae covered surface provides an interesting, organic contrast to its entirely man-made form.

Some people might find it hard to relate to Carl Andre’s Minimalist creations, however, seen in real life they do what they say on the tin, they occupy a space in an interesting way, they define a physical  area and they have an insistent prescence, purity and a life of their own.

Admittedly, Nash’s  “End of the Steps” is a difficult piece of art , but it’s a painting of our steps, our block of concrete,and our Seawall. I’m fascinated by it.  Because of Nash they all have a secure and permanent place in the History of Art.

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11 thoughts on “An interesting Block of Concrete

  1. As an ex-pat who maintains a foot-hold in Dymchurch I have thoroughly enjoyed the trip back ‘home’ and the art history lessons that your posts have provided. Romney Marsh is a wonderful place and for my money Dymchurch beach is the jewel in the crown.

      • Hello Andrew. Ah, mother. She’s such a treasure she should have been buried years ago. She really enjoys your Wednesday sessions. I’m sure having her in your class is ‘interesting’. As a teacher myself all I can say is rather you than me. She also told me that you have a good sense of humour. I hope so. Regards.

      • Hi Oliver I think even if your mother was buried her voice would still be heard.. In fairness she does contribute an awful lot to the class, her “left of Tony Benn” politics are welcome in this Tory heartland. I believe you had to move to Istanbul to escape.

        Keep in touch, enjoyed reading your Blog, I hope to do another post for mine this week

        Regards

        Andrew

  2. Hi,
    I’m writing too about Paul Nash and I’m fascinated by “The end of the steps”. I read your article and I had been interpeeled by your quotation : “found a way to solve the equation of that damned block house and the curve of the steps and the curve of the sky”. Please, could you tell me where you found it (in wich book), I’m writing for my studies (i’m a french student in history of art).
    Many thanks !
    Erika.

    • Hi Erika

      Thanks for reading my Blog. The quote you mention is from Anthony Bertram “Paul Nash” published in 1923. It is also quoted in “Paul Nash The Elements” by David Fraser Jenkins published to coincide with the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2010. Hope this helps, don’t hesitate to ask if you need more information.
      Good Luck with your studies!

      Andrew

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