Dave McKean’s “Black Dog – The Dreams of Paul Nash” graphic novel project to get Cumbrian Premiere

The cover of Black Dog – The Dreams of Paul Nash by Dave McKean
The cover of Black Dog – The Dreams of Paul Nash by Dave McKean

Cumbria will host a world-premiere performance and the launch of Black Dog – The Dreams of Paul Nash – a unique graphic novel project combing comic art and performance by Dave McKean as part of 14-18 NOW, the UK’s official arts programme for the World War One centenary.

Initiated by the Lakes International Comic Art Festival, Black Dog – The Dreams of Paul Nash is a new graphic novel and multimedia performance by illustrator, comic artist, filmmaker and musician Dave McKean, in which he explores the work of Paul Nash, one of the most important British artists of the twentieth century, whose World War One experiences inspired him to create paintings of disturbing, lasting power.

The world-premiere performance by Dave McKean and international musical collaborators will take place at Kendal Town Hall on 28th May, 2016. The performance will feature projections, animated illustrations, live music and narration.

Additional performances will be held in France over the summer before the performance returns to Cumbria for the graphic novel launch in October.

Black Dog – The Dreams of Paul Nash by Dave McKean is co-commissioned by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, the On a Marche sur la Bulle Festival and 14-18 NOW, WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, supported by the National Lottery through Arts Council England and the Heritage Lottery Fund. The commission is also supported by Kendal College, Kendal Business Improvement District and South Lakeland District Council.

The graphic novel will be released in two editions – a limited edition in May and a full publication in October at the Lakes International Comic Art Festival (14-16 October 2016).

The 14-18 NOW programme has invited artists from around the world to create new works in response to World War One and its impact on the world we live in today.

“We are thrilled to be bringing such a unique artistic commission to Cumbria,” commented Julie Tait, Director, Lakes International Comic Art Festival. “This is the only comic art commission to feature in the national centenary programme and an amazing opportunity for comic art to reach new audiences.

“Dave McKean combines many artistic media to create work that challenges, inspires and excites. This is a major new work by one of the most creative minds in the comic world; inspired by one of the most important artists of the twentieth century.”

“We are thrilled to be partnering with the Lakes International Comic Art Festival to present this unique performance and new graphic novels by the hugely talented Dave McKean,” added Jenny Waldman, Director of 14-18 NOW.

“14-18 NOW aims to encourage people to pause and reflect on the impact of the First World War through art, and it is wonderful that we are able to give visitors to, and residents of, the Lake District the chance to do this.”

Howitzer Firing by Paul Nash (1918). Image: IWM (Imperial War Museums. Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Howitzer Firing by Paul Nash (1918). Image: IWM (Imperial War Museums).

Paul Nash, a Pioneer of Modernism

Paul Nash was one of the most original British artists of the first half of the 20th Century, who learned his craft (along with others of note) at Slade School of Art. Working in the tradition of artists William Blake and Samuel Palmer, influenced by Cézanne, his highly distinctive paintings express a deep, mystical attachment to the English countryside.  His first one-man exhibition was shown in his final year at Slade in 1912.

Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917, painted in 1918 by by Paul Nash. Image: IWM (Imperial War Museums).
Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917, painted in 1918 by by Paul Nash. Image: IWM (Imperial War Museums).

25 at the outbreak of World War One, “he would come to see himself as a messenger to those who wanted the war to go on for ever, creating some of the most devastating landscapes of war ever painted,” notes admirer Gerry Cordon in a fascinating essay on his work. “His outrage at the waste of life expressed through his depiction of the violation of nature in landscapes that were both visionary and terrifyingly realistic.”

He was an official war artist during Word War One, painting the scarred landscape of the Western Front where he had served as a soldier before being wounded. In the late 1920s, he became interested in Surrealism and was particularly influenced by the paintings of de Chirico.

During World War Two, he was again appointed official war artist, and although sick with the asthmatic condition that would kill him, he produced two series of anthropomorphic depictions of aircraft, before producing a number of landscapes rich in symbolism with an intense mystical quality highlighting he devastating effects of war on rural England. A pioneer of modernism in Britain, he was also a fine book illustrator and also designed stage scenery, fabrics and posters.

Dave McKean. Photo: Allen Amato
Dave McKean. Photo: Allen Amato

“I’d like to explore Paul Nash’s role in the birth of modernism and surrealism,” says Dave McKean of the project, “and how those movements were actually witnessed by Nash in the dream-nightmare-like battlefields of the war. He used the landscape that he loved to try to deal with what he’d been through, and to try and find calm and solace beyond.”

Dave McKean’s work has won numerous awards including the World Fantasy Award, the V&A Museum Illustrated Book Award and the Harvey Award for best Graphic Novel. He has worked alongside writer Neil Gaiman on graphic novels including the critically acclaimed The Sandman series, as well as illustrating the celebrated Batman graphic novel Arkham Asylum. Dave has illustrated numerous magazines, album covers as well as illustrating short stories and children’s books. He has collaborated with creatives and writers from all walks of life including biologist Richard Dawkins, chef Heston Blumenthal and musician John Cale. Six of McKean’s images appeared in the Royal Mail’s Mythical Creatures Collection.

14-18 NOW

14-18 NOW is a programme of extraordinary arts experiences connect people with World War One, as part of the UK’s official centenary commemorations. It aims to engage as many people as possible with the World War One, exploring how the war has impacted on the society we live in now. 14-18 NOW commissions new work by leading contemporary artists from all art forms, inspired by the period 1914-1918.

The commemorative period is marked by three key seasons – the first season centred around 4th August 2014 (the Anniversary of the Declaration of War), the second is March to November 2016 (the anniversary of the Battle of Somme) and the last in 2018 (the centenary of Armistice Day). 14-18 NOW is responsible for the UK tour of the iconic poppy sculptures by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper.

14-18 NOW is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England, by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport and by additional fundraising and has commissioned over 80 artworks to date that have been seen by over 20 million people.

• For more about 14-18 NOW visit: www.1418now.org.uk | For more about Dave McKean visit: www.davemckean.com

• The fourth Lakes International Comic Art Festival will run from 14-16 October 2016 in Kendal, Cumbria, celebrating great comic art from across the world. It is the only one of its kind in the UK taking over the whole town of Kendal, on the edge of the Lake District, for a weekend. Web: www.comicartfestival.com

• There’s more about artist Paul Nash and his work during on World War One in particular at www.firstworldwar.com/bio/nash.htm

• You can view over 80 of his paintings on the BBC’s Your Paintings site here

• Read: Gerry Cordon: Paul Nash and World War One: ‘I am no longer an artist, I am a messenger to those who want the war to go on for ever… and may it burn their lousy souls’

• Read A Terrible Beauty: British artists in the First World War by Gerry Cordon

The Art of World War One timeline on the Memorial de Caen web site

• Why paint war? British and Belgian artists in World War One

On the web site of the British Library, Professor Paul Gough introduces British and Belgian artists of World War One, from Henry de Groux and his eyewitness responses to the Belgian invasion, to the later generation of British artists who transformed their frontline experiences into abstract, modernist artworks

An introduction to the work of Paul Nash, a short film created to mark an exhibition of his work at Dulwich Picture Gallery in 2010

John Freeman

The founder of downthetubes, John describes himself as is a "freelance comics operative", currently working as a freelance editor for TITAN COMICS, as Creative Consultant on the new DAN DARE audio adventures for B7 Media, and on promotional work for the LAKES INTERNATIONAL COMIC ART FESTIVAL and LANCASTER COMICS DAY. John has worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years, starting out at Marvel UK, where he edited a number of the Genesis 1992 books with Paul Neary. His numerous credits include editor of titles such as Doctor Who Magazine at Marvel and Star Trek Magazine and Babylon 5 Magazine at Titan Magazines, where he was Managing Editor. He also edited STRIP Magazine and worked as an editor on several audio comics for ROK Comics, including TEAM M.O.B.I.L.E. and THE BEATLES STORY. Most recently he is writing CRUCIBLE as a creator-owned project with 2000AD artist Smuzz, published on Tapastic; and DEATH DUTY and SKOW DOGS with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable.

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