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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Saturday, August 16, 2003
    Event in the Tate
     
    So glad for time off after the trauma of two child funerals in three days. And a rare opportunity to catch up with Tate Liverpool (closed on my usual day off, Mondays). Drawn to the odd English landscapes of Paul Nash, who painted in the first half of the twentieth century, covering two world wars and developing a series of distinctively abstract, surreal English pastoral visions. Odd combination of modernism and mysticism.

    This major exhibition featured such a range of Nash's work it's hard to pick out a highlight. But one work, and probably a relatively 'minor' one, particularly caught my eye: Event on the Downs, 1934.

    This comes from the period of Nash's work where he focussed on what the exhibition calls the Landscapes of the Megaliths, the stones of Avebury and Stonehenge with their 'magical and primitive presence'. This is what Nash sees here, in the old chalk rocks and ancient tracks, the wizened tree trunk on the hilltop, the rolling downs, the sea.

    What struck me was a question. What, precisely, is the Event on the Downs to which the artist refers? Is it the imminent collision of that cloud into that cliff, its climatic effects? Is it the coming together of those two roads? Or their diversifying? Is it something in that old wood, which seems latent, waiting, able to act in the landscape because of the ancient wisdom it contains (Nash revered trees, saw them as persons)? Or is it to do with that odd spherical object which is either a Yin-Yang symbol, or a tennis ball (or perhaps both?)

    I don't know. But it took me a long time to pull away from this picture this afternoon. Guess that's one thing about good art. It engages you.