I was blown away when I first saw Paul Nash’s painting Totes Meer, some years back. How it transforms the sea into a body of war and death. The butting of waves (wings/graves) against waves suggest a disturbed sea where wind blows against a prevailing tide; nature at odds with itself. This is a contained sea, but only just. There are points of spillage onto the beach, high tide shadows the sand, the sea is in retreat. The moon is in its first quarter. This is a neaps tide, due to rise up the beach further in the next week. A solitary gull, too distant to be definitively identifiable, glides out of, or over, the wreckage, appearing almost a part of it, one of the ribs of the broken carriers. Some crosses can be seen, insignia of German fighter pilots. The pilots presumably lost at sea. Metal turns to motion, in an awful alchemy. The sea cannot be viewed in the same way again.
What looks like driftwood lies strewn on the beach. ‘Wrack’ is still used around Morecambe Bay for waste material brought up by the sea, another meaning given by the OED is “a vessel ruined or crippled by wreck”. Both land and sea are affected by this crippling. Nash suffered PTSD after serving in WW1. Painted in 1940, just after the Battle of Britain, the Tate’s commentary, where it hangs, claims he intended it to instill patriotic, anti German sentiment. To me it, like the sea itself, spills beyond any particular side, and represents the carnage of war in its entirety. The same commentary also says Nash called aircraft killer whales, making permeable the line between aircraft and animal, metal casing and water. There is no absolute where one starts and another stops. Just as the men are tossed and churned beneath the waves. And yet ‘No!’ this is not how my sea looks. The painting galvanizes a desire in me a desire to clean the sea of this wrack. This is not what how I want to perceive the sea.
It is this horror (although far less dramatic than war) this provocation to agency I hope to stimulate in the 'Wave Motion' artistbook. Coctored photos of can yokes, those plastic rings discarded everywhere, seemingly indestructible, translucent and spiralling like the waves themselves, represent the crests of an incoming tide. An uncanny beauty, a near familiarity, a noose that is not so large nor dramatic as Nash’s wrecked aircraft, signifying a war more prevalent in the twenty first century, the perpetration of civilisation’s onslaught on the environment.
You can buy 'Wave Motion' here
(crab casts not included)