Illustrated companion

This work brings together four preoccupations of Nash, all of them central to his art yet rarely brought together in a way in which they are so fully integrated yet remain so individually explicit. They are: the mystical or symbolic qualities of inanimate objects; the English landscape and its history; the abstract qualities of structure and design; and an overall dream-like super-reality having links with Surrealism.

Megaliths are the great stones, remains of ancient temples, which can be seen in Britain particularly at Stonehenge and Avebury. It was Nash's first encounter with them that triggered his awareness of the mystery he could find in other objects such as driftwood, bones or shells, and in 1937 he published an article on the subject, The Life of the Inanimate Object. After his first visit to Avebury, Nash wrote: 'The great stones were then in their wild state, so to speak. Some were half covered by the grass, others stood up in the cornfields, were entangled and overgrown in the copses, some were buried under the turf. But they were always wonderful and disquieting and as I saw them I shall always remember them ... their colouring and pattern, their patina of golden lichen, all enhanced their strange forms and mystical significance.' The megaliths in particular seem to have been able to produce in Nash a state almost of waking dream or hallucination. In 1934, in his statement in Unit One, he wrote 'Last summer I walked in a field near Avebury where two rough monoliths stand up, sixteen feet high ... A mile away, a green pyramid casts a gigantic shadow. In the hedge at hand, the white trumpet of a convolvulus turns from its spiral stem, following the sun. In my art I would solve such an equation.' The solution to the equation, in 'Equivalents for the Megaliths' and others of Nash's paintings, is to recreate the dream in which such disparate elements can co-exist in an irrational order that nevertheless possesses an imaginative truth. Nash achieves this not by literal representation of the megaliths, but by recasting them, inventing 'equivalents' for them whose formal geometry remains mysterious while creating a powerful element of abstract design. The megalith equivalents are set in a rolling, fertile landscape whose utter emptiness of human life contributes strongly to the dream atmosphere of the painting. In the distance the stacked disc form, equivalent for an ancient hill fort or earthwork, echoes the megaliths in the foreground and echoes too the green pyramid, the third element, with nature and the megaliths, of Nash's waking dream at Avebury.

Published in:
Simon Wilson, Tate Gallery: An Illustrated Companion, Tate Gallery, London, revised edition 1991, p.178