Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash – a meditation on conflict, loyalty and creativity in war


The perfect tie-in to Tate Britain’s Paul Nash exhibition

Paul Nash is regarded as one of the definitive surrealist painters of the Modernist era of English art. His landscape paintings that drew from his experiences whilst fighting in World War I expertly captured the harsh reality of the results of battle and are regarded as some of the definitive images that depicted the conflict. His iconic paintings of aircrafts and battles created during World War II were equally memorable. Seventy years on following his death, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash has been commissioned as part of 14-18 NOW (a five year programme of new cultural works created specifically to the mark the centenary of World War I) and very fittingly, the creator chosen to explore the life of Paul Nash and bring his experiences to life is renowned illustrator Dave McKean.

When you look at his resume (which includes various collaborations with Neil Gaiman such as Black Orchid and The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch, the iconic Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum, the stunning covers for Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, his exploration of artists and creativity in Cages, and his diverse body of film work highlighted by his director debut for MirrorMask), there is no doubt that McKean is the perfect artist for the job. Described in the foreword as a long-time fan of Nash’s work, it is clear he is relishing the opportunities that this particular opportunity awards him. It’s hard to describe McKean’s style as his art covers many mediums. These have included a traditional loose comic style, surrealism, sculpture, collage and highly detailed paintings. With Black Dog, he brings several of these elements together which create something quite special.


The main focus of the comic is not necessarily to completely focus on the various events of Nash’s life but rather to examine his reactions and thoughts to the events he has witnessed. The titular Black Dog is present in the first dream Nash remembers having and follows him through several of his dreams and thoughts throughout his life. From these various dreams, one can piece together various aspects of his life (the first dream seems to imply a growing distance between him and his mother whilst the majority of the later ones focus on his experiences in the war that eventually leave him in a similar state to his mother). These dreams are pieced together with various flashbacks and tricks of the mind that thanks to McKean’s deft touch (and a natural extension of his collage skills) is pieced together in a way that, while not cohesive in style, presents a cohesive look at what is going through Nash’s mind. With the bulk of the focus on World War I, you’d expect many depictions of battles, but McKean goes in the other direction, focusing on the quiet moments before and after which manage to make the reading experience even more haunting. Particular highlights are chapter eight which presents a poignant depiction of the Southampton Docks and chapter twelve which brings several of McKean’s techniques together as he reunites with his brother in the trenches.


The Tate Britain is currently hosting an exhibition of Paul Nash’s greatest works. If you plan on going, this is a perfect accompaniment and tribute to one of the greatest artists of the past by one of the greatest working today.

Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash is published 20 October by Dark Horse

Paperback: 9781506701080  £20.99

Limited Edition Hardback: 9781506701097  £66.99

Paul Nash at Tate Britain runs 26 October 2016 – 5 March 2017

Dave McKean presents a live-staging of the graphic novel at Tate Britain on 13 November

Post by Leo

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