‘Paul Nash – The Clare Neilson Gift’ at Pallant House

Clare Neilson, Photograph of Paul Nash, Pallant House Gallery, The Clare Neilson Gift through the Art Fund

An insightful show of work by the 20th century British artist Paul Nash opened at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester earlier this week, including wood engravings, etchings, photographs, collage and illustrated books.

The work provides a rare insight into the relationship between patron and artist, as shown by the photograph taken of Paul Nash by collector Clare Neilson. Their very particular friendship was first formed while Nash was living in and around Rye in the 1930s. It is fitting then that this collection should find its new permanent home in Sussex, thanks to the generosity of Clare Neilson’s godson Jeremy Greenwood and the Art Fund, the national fundraising charity for art.

Simon Martin, Head of Collections at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, is delighted by the gift of the Neilson Collection, which also includes correspondence. “It is a significant addition to Pallant House Gallery’s collection of Modern British Art,” he acknowledged, “and a fascinating and personal view into friendship and artistic patronage in the 1930s and ‘40s.”

Paul Nash is often thought of as an essentially English artist but between the wars he also sought to champion the hope embodied in continental modernism, defending Picasso and experimenting with abstraction before embracing Surrealism. He served as a soldier in the trenches of the Great War and subsequently worked as a war artist on the Western Front between 1917 and 1918 and again during the Second World War. This body of work provides a stark commentary on the reality of war.

He was drawn to objects sculpted by nature and had what some have described as an overriding habit of metaphor. Trees, for example, could take on the character of stones. This serves to highlight the poetic nature of his painting and how firmly rooted he was in the English tradition as well. Indeed, his earlier work is influenced by the 19th century English Romantic tradition of William Blake (who also lived in Sussex, at Felpham, between 1800 and 1803), Samuel Palmer and Dante Gabrielle Rossetti. With this in mind, you could forgive John Piper for including one of Nash’s paintings in his 1943 book ‘British Romantic Artists’. Nash was less than pleased, though. It was the word ‘romantic’ which bothered him and he referred, instead, to the ‘poetic’. Certainly, as an artist he returned again and again to the poetry of the English landscape. He sought to look beyond the immediate to what he referred to as the ‘genius loci’, the spirit of the place, to ‘a reality more real’.

Paul Nash, Still Life (No.2), circa 1927, wood engraving, Pallant House Gallery, The Clare Neilson Gift through the Art Fund, copyright TATE London 2013.

Paul Nash was noted for collecting all manner of objects, including seashells, pebbles, seedpods and bits of branches, all of which fuelled his imagination. In 1920, the Society of Wood Engravers was formed and Nash joined. His still life studies are not generally among his most highly regarded pictures. In this woodblock print from 1927, however, the relationship between the glimpsed landscape and still life reflects a paradoxical quality, which recurs in his work. Note also the uncompromising contrast of black and white, of which some, like Jacob Epstein, were critical. But this technique, combined with his unerring and poetic eye, seeds drama in our imaginations and allows us to glimpse something beyond our immediate perception of the world.

Paul Nash exhibited with Epstein at the important ‘Exhibition of the Work of English Post-Impressionists, Cubists and Others’, where his work was selected by Spencer Gore of the Camden Town Group. The exhibition was held at the Public Art Galleries in Brighton between 16th December 1913 and 14th January 1914. Nash also taught and championed two other artists noted in Sussex, Eric Ravilious and Edward Bawden, at the Royal College of Art in London. I have long been of the opinion that Sussex stands out as an important centre for Modern British Artists working in the 20th century. Paul Nash’s original and influential work, his connection with Sussex and the insight the Clare Neilson Collection affords us, serve to reinforce my view.

We live out our lives relationally and our possessions can help us to articulate the narrative of our lives. Very often they reflect points of love and friendship in our journeys. In these ways they can help to ground us in this life, but it is important to remember that we are only the custodians. The Clare Neilson Collection and the generosity of its gift speak loudly of this and deserve to be celebrated.

‘Paul Nash – The Clare Neilson Gift Exhibition’ is on show from 9th April to 30th June 2013. For more information and opening times go to www.pallant.org.uk or telephone 01243 774557.

By Revd. Rupert Toovey. Originally published on 10th April 2013 in the West Sussex Gazette.

The Everyday Icon: Andy Waite

The artist, Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
The artist, Andy Waite

Andy Waite is an Arundel-based artist, best known for his vibrant semi-abstract landscape paintings. Nicholas Toovey looks at a different aspect of the artists oeuvre based around figures and human emotions.

'Winter Deep' by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'Winter Deep' oil on canvas, a more typical example of the artist's work

Andy was born in Buckinghamshire and after a time in Kent moved to Sussex. While studying art and design he lived in Findon, spending lots of time on and around the South Downs, with Cissbury and Chanctonbury Rings becoming favourite haunts. In 1978 Andy settled in Arundel, a place he describes as ‘an amazing location, you can be up on the downs within 15 minutes and the sea is only 3 miles away’. He is unquestionably inspired by the surrounding Sussex landscape that has kept him in the county for the last forty years. The neighbouring countryside is interpreted in sketchbooks later translating into oils on canvas in his landscape paintings that are most synonymous with his name.

'The Boy King' oil on panel by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'The Boy King' oil on panel

Although landscape has been his main output, Andy has also always been interested in life drawing, which he undertakes in a swift and spontaneous way. It would be easy to assume that his ‘Every Day Icons’ are a progression from these figurative sketches, but in fact were created as a deliberate separate series. Informed by his other works and influenced by his trips to Italy, these icons were made with the concept that anyone, not just religious figures, might be revered or regarded as sacred. The faces depicted are based around friends or family and radiate a range of emotions from the quite dark to the joyous. ‘Some are searching, others yearning, some have found contentment in the moment. All are being honoured no matter what their state of mind’ says the artist. Whilst painting the images around these specific feelings, the emotion sometimes change during the painting process. Once completed, Andy assimilates the works for a few days titling them appropriately with a name that is almost suggested by the painting itself.

'The Fullness Of Time' by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'The Fullness Of Time' oil on panel
'What The World Has Shown Me' by Andy Waite, via blog.tooveys.com
'What The World Has Shown Me' oil on board

The comparison to iconography is born from the palette used by Andy that echoes those used in Byzantine and Renaissance portrayals of religious figures. These were often embellished with gold leaf and due to the inherent cost it was reserved for the holiest elements such as halos. Ultramarine blue was a similarly expensive colour to create due to the main ingredient of lazulite and the difficulty of extracting the strong blue from the mineral; as a result, this was often used for the robes of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ. These colours were intended to lead the eye of the viewer to the key elements of the religious works when contrasted with the earth colours like ochre and umber. The supports of Andy’s paintings vary from modern boards to reclaimed wood, sometimes with several pieces adhered together to make a single panel, those left unfinished artificially age his contemporary interpretation of a tradition that started in medieval times.

The series of ‘Every Day Icons’ exemplifies the artist’s handling of the human form and Andy’s ability to illustrate unequivocal emotion. He portrays these feelings with an inimitable softness and subtlety. Ultimately, it is this sensitivity that makes the work extremely engaging and distinctively his own.

For more visit Andy’s website

Nicholas’ article was originally published in Sussex Life magazine in December 2011.