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….
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 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.
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.