Paul Nash: the surrealist eye

Paul Nash. Boat on the Shore, South of France, 1933/4

Last week the Guardian had this photo on their website from an exhibition of Paul Nash's photographs currently on view in Sheffield.  Coincidentally, I just finished reading Pat Barker's novel about the Slade, WWI, war artists and the purpose of war art, Life Class, published in 2007. This appears to have been loosely based on the WWI experience of both Paul Nash (1889-1946) and his brother,  John Nash (1893-1977) who also enlisted in the Artists Rifles. Both might be called meticulous and passionate landscape draughtsmen, rendering complex landscapes into simpler sheets and planes that record an ancient topology usually scarred by some form of modernity.

Between 1931 and 1946 when he died, Paul Nash had a No. 1A pocket Kodak camera with which he photographed landscapes, objects, rocks and rubbish with a slightly crooked surrealist eye.   The exhibition mounted by Abbott and Holder shows a few of these photographs, from the White Horse at Uffington to an Avebury standing stone.  Tree trunks and fence posts become sculptural, ploughed fields become pattern, a topiary garden with a large looming house on the other side of a hedge becomes comically Gothic. 

The Guardian blurb mentions a pathetic fallacy at play in these photographs.  I must say I'd forgotten what the pathetic fallacy was for a moment, but I don't think this is what it is.  One might project all sorts of social preoccupations on the subject matter, but if one was a visual artist, a surrealist and insisted on using your pathetic little pocket Kodak for everything, I would take the cue from surrealism instead.  These are photographs of curious, inexplicable things. 

Paul Nash. The Box Garden, Beckley Park, Oxfordshire. 1943