It’s difficult for artists to paint something like Dymchurch Beach, there isn’t much to get your teeth into really.
Paul Nash, despite wandering up and down the sandy expanse numerous times, didn’t actually concentrate on the beach very much. For him it was more about the Wall and it’s relationship as a barrier between the sea and the Romney Marsh. Other artists have pecked away at the subject in a half- hearted sort of way. Charles Simms had one go and called it a day, Ben Nicholson obviously thought once was quite enough (though the one picture he did produce was rather good). You can’t blame them entirely, unless you are a minimalist and look for less, rather than more, what is there to focus on?
There are several yellow buoys, tethered by iron chains. Occasionally one breaks loose and crashes menacingly against the seawall – (exciting!) We have the oak breakwaters, the poet John Davidson referred to them as “organ stops” in his lovely poem “On Romney Marsh”. At first glance there doesn’t seem to be much else of interest.
Having said all that there’s something that draws me to the beach and the vast swathe of flat sand that forms the crescent of St Mary’s Bay. The obvious reference points are the more distant landmarks, the Water Tower at Littlestone, the lightouses and power stations at Dungeness, the Martello Towers. The oddly shaped (and named) “Brittania Grand Burstin” Hotel at Folkestone. A white Art Deco’ish monolith.
I like to gaze out over the beach when the tide is out, there are pools of sea water that reflect the changing sky and the barnacle encrusted breakwaters. There are shallow rises and falls in the sand that create subtle changes of light. Distant dog-walkers and the occasional angler digging for bait punctuate the far off waterline. As you climb the slope up to the sea wall you never know what awaits as you peer over the top. The beach landscape is constantly altering as the day progresses.
On a clear night you can gaze into the darkness and see the rhythmic sweep of the Cap Gris Nez lighthouse beam, 20 or so miles away on the French coast. Nearer to home the single lights of the small fishing boats, which launch from the Dymchurch beach at low tide. To the east the Folkestone harbour light.
The other week I spotted the Coastguard vehicle parked on the sand, I couldn’t resist asking him why he was there. It turned out that part of a WWII torpedo had surfaced. (very exciting!). Eventually the Bomb Disposal Van turned up, a quick “controlled explosion” and another wartime relic was obliterated.
An artist who made some effort with the empty Dymchurch beach was Richard Eurich. Eurich (1903 – 1992) specialised in extensive panoramas and produced a large number of paintings as a war artist in WWII. You can see these on the superb BBC “Your Paintings” website http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/ just enter “Eurich” into the search box. The picture at the head of this blog is by this artist and shows the sweep of the beach looking west towards Dungeness. Other works by Eurich show the view looking out to sea over the beach which is sparsely populated by tiny figures.The edge of the rock sea defences can be seen in the foreground. Although Richard Ernst Eurich was born in Bradford he was of German descent. Interestingly his father was a pioneering forensic scientist who was renown for his research into the disease Anthrax.
Pacifism was in the family and that is why Richard became a war artist and was not himself conscripted for military service in WW2. That made possible his famous and very good pictures of Dunkirk and other wartime scenes.
Eurich is an underrated artist and deserves greater exposure, his paintings of the sands at Dymchurch certainly capture the atmosphere and feel of our lovely beach.