These stunning and surreal pictures show why York Art Gallery is the place to be right now

Don’t Forget The Diver by Paul Nash, 1942, Courtesy of the Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter City Council
24 Oct 2017 @ 1.42 pm
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Three galleries of remarkable artworks, letters and personal belongings add up to a extraordinary new exhibition at York Art Gallery.

Paul Nash and the Uncanny Landscape

York Art Gallery, Exhibition Square

Oct 20-April 15

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At the centre of things are works by the British surrealist painter and war artist Paul Nash.

These are curated by John Stezaker, a conceptual artist well known for his own surrealist eye.

Stezaker’s fascinating collages created with postcards, film stills and publicity photographs are also on show.

Plus there is a gallery given over to a private collection including the personal belongings of Nash, and his very last picture.

Paul Nash: Landscapes transformed

Drawing at Oxenbridge, 1922 (wc on paper) by Paul Nash, Manchester Art Gallery, UK Bridgeman
Paul Nash And The Uncanny Landscape features Nash’s ground-breaking inter-war landscapes which transformed the genre of British landscape painting.

The violent upheaval of the pastoral and romantic landscape caused by the First World War had a significant effect on Nash and his work reflected this.

In this unique exhibition Stezaker considers how Nash and his contemporaries portrayed an estranged sense of unreality focused on the representation of the everyday world.

Harbour and Room, by Paul Nash, 1930-31. Private collection
The Elms by Paul Nash, Manchester Art Gallery, UK. Photograph: Bridgeman Images

John said: “Paul Nash’s work represents a watershed in British landscape painting. His First World War paintings are probably his most famous works.

“But it was in the immediate aftermath of the war, when Nash was working in Dymchurch, that a much more disturbing spatial order emerged.

“A dystopia created by the technological clearing of war, it represented a new variety of the uncanny in the dominated landscape of post war Britain.”

The Corner, by Paul Nash, 1919, JF252 Copyright of the Jerwood Collection

Winter Sea (1925-1937) by Paul Nash, courtesy of York Art Gallery

Nash felt a kinship with his surrealist contemporaries like Giorgio de Chirico and Rene Magritte.

But his particular contribution to British art was to keep this estranged sense of unreality focused on the representation of the everyday world rather than on inner worlds or fantasy spaces.

John Stezaker

Personal collection

Jennifer Alexander with the sketch “Portrait of Margaret Nash at Boscombe” from a private collection of Nash’s work that was done the day before he died – so very likely to be his last ever work. Photograph: Charlotte Graham

Rarely seen artworks by Paul Nash and his brother John, together with personal items from a private collection, are included in the exhibition.

The previously unseen artworks include possibly the last painting Paul Nash ever composed, created the day before he died.

The collection was compiled by a relative of Paul Nash who became friends with him and his wife Margaret when she moved to Oxford to join the Women’s Auxiliary Airforce (WAAF) during the Second World War.

Some of the personal belongings in the exhibition. Photograph: Charlotte Graham

“This is a wonderfully eclectic collection that offers us a glimpse into the world of two of the most highly regarded artists in Britain,” said Jennifer Alexander, curator of art at York Art Gallery.

“It includes the brushes and portable paint box Paul has used, the photographs Paul took to study from and the paintings and prints created by both Paul and John, including a poignant watercolour of Margaret created the day before Paul died.”

Surreal and seductive Stezaker

John Stezaker at York Art Gallery. Photograph: Anthony Chappel-Ross / York Museums Trust

A second gallery is showing Stezaker’s works, including recent landscape works which demonstrate Nash’s influence.

Stezaker, who won Deutsche Borse photography prize in 2012, creates surreal and seductive photographic collages using images from books, magazines and postcards.

John Stezaker: Mask (Film Portrait Collage) © John Stezaker. Courtesy York Art Gallery and The Approach, London. Photograph: FXP Photography
John Stezaker – Mask (Film Portrait Collage). © John Stezaker. Courtesy York Art Gallery and The Approach, London. Photograph: FXP Photography

The landscapes draw on the geometric patterns and “uncanny” nature of Nash’s works, combining different images to create new scenes that both fascinate and unnerve.

Just like Nash’s work 100 years ago, Stezaker’s works present us with a shift in attitude towards art and the landscape as well as an unfamiliar look at the familiar.

John Stezaker: Pyramid, 2016 Collage © John Stezaker. Courtesy York Art Gallery and The Approach, London. Photograph: FXP Photography
John Stezaker: Mask (Film Portrait Collage) CCXX, 2017 Collage © John Stezaker. Courtesy York Art Gallery and The Approach, London. Photograph: FXP Photography