Winter Sea is the beloved English landscape painter Paul Nash at his bleak best. Working a cubist reduction, his waves are knife-like slivers of black ice. This is a painting about transformation, freezing rolling waters into forms as solid as concrete, and suggesting the natural cycle of active life into petrified death.
Sea of dreams
Nash created it in Dymchurch in Kent, where he had retreated after his formative stint as an official first world war artist. The horrors he had witnessed at Ypres had occasioned a breakdown. He walked the low sea wall at night, contemplating the rocky beach and flat gloomy sea.
For the dead
An asthma sufferer in a time when the condition was potentially lethal, Nash had long been preoccupied with death. His mother, a depressive who spent time in psychiatric hospitals during Nash’s childhood, died when he was 20.
His dark materials
His first exhibition of images created on the western front was called Void, and this might have been an alternative title for Winter Sea. Instead of suggesting infinity, its sharp perspectival lines end in a darkness as impregnable as rock.
Part of Paul Nash and the Uncanny Landscape: Curated by John Stezaker, York Art Gallery, to 15 April