Saturday, 30 April 2011

Simon Turner - Marginal Notes (4)

I love Paul Nash's paintings, and love Bomber in the Corn most of all.  Aside from its brilliant composition - a blood-red sun sitting in a corona of white like the yolk of an egg; the smashed hull of German bomber mirroring the neat lines of what might be trees or rocky outcrops on the horizon line; abstract shapes to the left of the sun-haze, which might be birds or retreating planes - I love the sense in the painting of a whole tradition of English landscape painting coming crashing down to earth, its ruins as tangible and absolute as the razor-edged corpse of the bomber itself.  The painting, coming twenty two years after the First World War in the midst of the Second, feels like a metonymic concentration of the fate of Georgian poetry in the trenches: the continuation of pastoral Romanticism confronting the horror of mechanised warfare.  Confronting and, of course, surviving.


Don McCullin's late landscape photos are drenched in, haunted by, his earlier studies of war.  The viewer can not help but read these deserted wintry landscapes - empty woods hazed with mist with a river running (stumbling, really) through them, and wild squalls of ivy clambering every tree - with an eye that's irrevocably muddied and mutilated by what's gone before.  Like McCullin somehow is trying to show us, the uninitiated, what it's like to see these things, and to be haunted by them, with no end in sight.      


When it was first exhibited in 1918, CRW Nevinson' Paths of Glory attracted opprobrium for its unflinching depiction of dead Tommies.  Asked to take it down, he refused, and enacted an angry compromise: brown paper pasted over the image with 'CENSORED' scrawled across it.  Censorship is, of course, self-defeating: what lies behind the brown-paper covering is never as horrific as what the viewer expects - indeed, hopes -to find.   

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