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Liminal Landscapes

Promenade Along the Coast: Paul Nash and Dave McKean Revisit Dymchurch

Promenade sur la côte : Dymchurch revisité par Paul Nash et Dave McKean
Sophie Aymes


Cet article s’attache à définir la spécificité du littoral en tant qu’interface et frontière naturelle, culturelle et médiale. Il prend pour objet la représentation et la remédiation du motif du littoral chez les artistes anglais Paul Nash et Dave McKean : entre 1919 et 1925, Nash produit une série d’œuvres picturales représentant Dymchurch, sur la côte du Kent en Angleterre, alors qu’il subit le contrecoup de son expérience du front pendant la Première Guerre mondiale ; publié en 2016, le roman graphique commémoratif de McKean Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash fait le récit de la jeunesse de Nash, de l’expérience de la guerre et de son dépassement au cours de l’immédiat après-guerre. Certaines des images les plus frappantes jouent sur l’interaction entre les souvenirs du front et le paysage de Dymchurch. Elles contribuent à tisser le lien entre mémoire individuelle et culturelle, perte et réparation, permettant ainsi d’interroger le sens du paysage comme médium et site mémoriel.

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  • 1 Black Dog is unpaginated. It is referred to as BD.
  • 2 McKean’s website provides ample information about the great variety of works that he has produced a (...)

1In 2015, the English artist Dave McKean received a joint commission from the 14-18 Now Foundation, as part of a five-year programme of works that were to mark the centenary of the First World War, in collaboration with the Imperial War Museum, the Lakes International Comic Art Festival and the French association On a Marché sur la Bulle. In the context of the centenary commemorations, he was to “illuminate, in a new way, the experiences and impact of the First World War” (Black Dog, foreword n.p.).1 McKean’s contribution was the graphic novel Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash published in 2016 and this was followed by a multimedia show performed at the Maison de la Culture in Amiens (4th and 5th June 2016) and at the Tate Gallery in London during the opening of the Paul Nash retrospective exhibition (13th November 2016).2 Black Dog is a first-person graphic narrative which offers a biographical and imaginary exploration of Paul Nash’s life from 1904 to the early 1920s, using a variety of sources, among which Nash’s pictures as well as his autobiography Outline (posth. 1949). Black Dog is a story of trauma and recovery, with alternating dream sequences, evoking childhood memories and wartime scenes. It begins with a nightmare colliding two dreams recollected by Nash in his autobiography, notably involving a black dog (Nash 1949, 27). The recurrent picture of the dog binds the different episodes of the graphic novel and gives shape to Nash’s anxieties: the nightmares of his youth (his “bête noire” in BD, chapter 7, panel 23), his mother’s dark melancholy, the war and the loss of creativity. The dog irrupts as full-fledged monster and traumatic symptom as the war breaks out: “In 1914 it broke through” (chapter 2, closing panel). It reappears for the last time at the end when Nash sloughs off into a new life (chapter 15), before waking up from this ultimate dream in a pastoral landscape signifying artistic renewal.

2The narrator calls these non-linear scenes a “brecchia of mirrors” (a brecchia being a rock with angular fragments). Their constant shifts underpinned by displacement and analogy map out Nash’s mindscape, weaving the narrative like the fabric of dreams: “[dreams] [h]iding in the valleys and the folds of our minds, reclusive. Hunkered in the shadows of our past and present tenses—in the trenches” (chapter 1, panel 2). Colliding autobiography, x-ray exploration, archaeology and archival retrieval, the narrator sets out to re-member his dreams. He compares this to recapturing the sketch one makes on waking up to record one’s dreams but he is aware that the reprise of this original sketch is twice removed from its source: “Somewhere, back there in that long-lost original sketch, was a stab at the truth, but with each iteration something is lost, but some other thing is revealed” (doublespread title page at the end of chapter 1).

  • 3 All my thanks go to Dave McKean who gave me kind permission to reproduce the first three panels of (...)

3This could also be taken as a comment on McKean’s reprise of some of Nash’s motifs within a broader commemorative scheme that aims to conjure cultural and historical continuity. It is one such motif that will be explored in the following pages, namely the coastline, which became a seminal image in Nash’s immediate postwar works and in his own process of recovery. The large panel facing the opening page of chapter 13 (panel 2) shows the narrator standing on the seawall of Dymchurch (England, Kent) whilst the black dog frolics on the beach [Fig. 1].3 This interpictorial reference—or, more broadly, intermedial reference (Rajewsky 55)—to Nash’s painting The Shore (1923) is an instance of how his images are reworked and nested in McKean’s graphic narrative [Fig. 2]. The title of the chapter (“1919 Dymchurch 1918 Ypres Salient”) points to the interplay between Nash’s memories of the trenches and of the Dymchurch coastline and associates two different types of landscapes that can be construed as boundaries and interfaces.

Fig. 1. Dave McKean, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash, panels 1, 2 and 3 of chapter 13 (n.p.).

© Dave McKean

Fig. 2. Paul Nash, The Shore (1923), oil on canvas, 62.2x94 cm, Leeds City Art Gallery.

© Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K. / Bridgeman Images

  • 4 Nash experimented with a variety of mediums. In a letter to his friend Gordon Bottomley of 1925, he (...)

4Gemma Brace, the curator of the exhibition “Brothers in Art: John and Paul Nash” (Bristol, 2014), asks “how do we remember through landscape?” (Gough 131). Presenting the Nash brothers’ works as “acts of commemoration”, she underlines the role of landscape as “memory-scape”—a term she borrows from James King—encoded with “memory markers” to which one returns (136). Similarly, Anne Whitehead posits place as a “point of connection or contact with another time and place, remembered or imagined” (288). Moreover, the reprise of a motif that Nash reworked for several years raises issues that are not only cultural and memorial, but also medial. This may be understood in two ways: the works of both McKean and Nash are characterized by the use of a variety of mediums4 and by the intermedial migration of certain motifs as particular instances of remediation. Secondly, following W.J.T. Mitchell who has defined landscape as “a medium of exchange between the human and the natural” (Mitchell 1994a, 5), this paper examines the specificity of the coastline as medial interface. This prevents me from doing justice to the narrative complexity of McKean’s compelling graphic novel. However the size of the panel itself [Fig. 1] provides an effect of dilation and stasis—a tabular effect (Baetens and Frey 129) also produced by the striking doublespreads punctuating the narrative—that invites the reader/viewer to pause and ponder. As “metapicture” (Mitchell 1994b), the Dymchurch panel encapsulates key aspects of the representation of landscape as (re)mediated motif and of landscape as medium and “memory-scape”.

Dymchurch: the (sea)front

  • 5 On the conflicting records of Nash’s illness by his wife Margaret and by Dr. Gordon Holmes (who sub (...)

5“Oh these wonderful trenches at night, at dawn, at sundown! Shall I ever lose the picture they have in my mind?” wrote Nash to his wife Margaret in April 1917 (Nash, Tate archive n.p.). In February he had been sent to France and he reached the Western Front in Flanders at a time of relative quiet in March. He had missed the Somme battles of 1916 and was invalided home after a fall in a shell crater before the beginning of the Passchendaele battle at the end of May 1917. He was back in the Ypres Salient in October as an official war artist until December. He then became aware of the full extent of the human and natural disaster. The pictorial work that he produced transferred the pathos of war onto what has been called his “Landscapes of Catastrophe” (Cardinal 23). They were to be bought by the newly created Imperial War Museum and were also used as studies for his famous 1918 war paintings. Once he was back in England, Nash was “a war artist without a war” (Outline 218)—a well-known pronouncement cited in Black Dog (chapter 13, panel 6) shortly after the panel under study here. In 1921, the Nashes moved to Dymchurch on the coast of Kent, a place that McKean knows well. They had already visited the place in 1919 and were struck by the seawall protecting Romney Marsh. Soon after their move, Nash had a breakdown which he described as a “black out” and whose immediate cause was his impression that his father was dead (Nash 1949, 219; BD, chapter 15, panel 2).5 He was also perhaps showing symptoms of the same mental instability as his mother who suffered from severe depression, and which may have been triggered as well by the death of his friend Claud Lovat Fraser. But of course, as many commentators have underlined, this was a traumatic crisis revealing the protracted influence of his war experience. As Andrew Causey has noted, “Dymchurch shows that the war was unfinished business” (Causey 2013, 52).

6This coastal landscape fascinated Nash. Although Dymchurch was not his only source of inspiration in those years, between 1919 and 1925, he made a series of pictures in a variety of mediums with the recurrence of an obsession. He produced a “set” (Causey 1980, 112) that was based on variations whose most recent remediation is McKean’s panel. In his autobiographical account of his childhood terrors and nightmares, Nash recalls having nearly drowned on the Yorkshire coast and he notes: “In those days I knew nothing of the sea or the magical implications of aerial perspective across miles of shore where waves alternately devour and restore the land” (Outline 79). The interplay of antagonistic forces underlies many of Nash’s works—as most critics have pointed out—and of course we can read his retrospective statement as an indirect reference to Dymchurch, a transitional place at a time of psychological instability and artistic self-refashioning.

  • 6 See for instance the wood engraving The Bay (dated 1922 by Greenwood 42/G.20 and 1923 by Postan W27 (...)
  • 7 See Greenwood (G.9 and G.10, 32-33) and Postan (W9 and W10). Promenade No 1 (1920) is available at (...)
  • 8 For instance, compare the composition of Promenade No 2 [Fig. 3] with that of the lithograph Rain, (...)

7As underlined by Nash’s biographers, Dymchurch is an ambivalent site of recovery and of confrontation with wartime memories and more primitive ones, or, to use David Mellor’s expression, “the site for a spectral re-encounter” (Mellor 30). Indeed, the symmetrical opposition and interaction between land and sea separated by the seawall evokes the landscape of trench warfare where enemies face each other across no man’s land (King 92, 103; Causey 1980, 112-113).6 In the wood engravings Promenade No.1 (1920) and Promenade No.2 (1923), the up and down wall-walk of the lonely figures along the sea front evokes patrols along the front line [Fig. 3].7 This is also suggested by McKean when he transposes the seaside promenade of chapter 13 to a nightmarish vision of the front in the second part of the same chapter. Because they encode a shift of place and perspective, Nash’s Dymchurch pictures do not provide a representation of the experience of the front as such: the battlefield is not seen from a one-sided point of view as when the soldier is facing the enemy and perspective is created by roads leading up to the front. Now the frontline has been tilted upwards: the landscape is viewed from a point which is perpendicular to it, with antagonistic spaces on either side.8 The viewer no longer faces danger but witnesses a confrontation that is carefully delineated and controlled.

Fig. 3. Promenade No 2 (1923 [1920]), wood engraving, 13.7x15.6 cm, Tate collections

© Tate, London, 2018. CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported). URL:​art/​artworks/​nash-promenade-ii-p01026

8In her discussion of how Geoffrey Hartman’s reading of Wordsworth’s Prelude relates to trauma studies, Whitehead emphasizes the importance of the viewer’s position (242). The viewing of landscape involves a “task of conversion from space to place” and the process of how one positions oneself is “crucial to the connection between landscape and trauma” (276), especially in the case of “belated witnesses” (276). Belatedness is indeed implicitly encoded in McKean’s panel of the Dymchurch coast since the reader/viewer is positioned at a right angle from the artist staring at the sea in the picture. This intersectional effect underlines the rhetorical function of this discrete image—as defined by Benoît Peeters (62-63)—within a narrative suturing disjointed sequences into a whole that finds closure with the final recovery (“You are cured, Mr Nash,” says the doctor in chapter 15).

The coastline

9In Nash’s pictures, the man-made seawall shelters the land from the continuous erosion of the sea. This containment structure stands in opposition to the unstable and porous nature of the coast. Indeed, the coast is an ecotone, a transitional zone defined by historian John R. Gillis as a place “where ecosystems intersect, overlap and exist in creative tension with one another” (2014, 155). Gillis sees shores as “the archetypal ecotone, where marine and terrestrial ecosystems meet” (155). Although a liminal space, it is no mere boundary but a significant dynamic space in itself: an ecotone “is not a passive or static place, but one that is dynamic, belonging as much to history as to nature. Ecotones not only produce the greatest biodiversity, but the greatest rates of change” (159). Here Gillis refers to islands in general but his description applies to the coast as distinctive insular feature. Significantly, he opposes the term “shore” to “coast line” as the latter, he explains, is a “cartographer’s fiction” superimposed from the eighteenth century to the prevailing vision of the shore as a “waterland” (156), a shift that was contiguous with the rise of modern nation states and of Western imperialism (Gillis 2012, 99-106). Reflecting on the meaning of boundaries, he draws a distinction between edge and margin: a coast line is an edge whereas the shore is a margin. He sums up their antagonistic connotations:

Edges divide places, margins bring them together. Margins are a space of flows; edges belong to fixed places of stasis. […] Margins are humanly habitable, edges are not. Margins encourage humans to connect and communicate. They are the seams that facilitate exchange and communication. Unlike edges, which call a halt, margins invite entry and allow escape. (Gillis 2014, 164)

10I would nevertheless argue that construing the shore as coastline does not imply a purely “continentalist” point of view (157), as shown by Nash and McKean’s pictures where ecotonal properties meet historical precedents. The coastline is a sensitive site in British history and it carries ambivalent connotations because it provides both containment and connectedness, and it is a symbol of defense as well as of porosity (Aymes 2008; 2010; Barkham, chapters 3 and 10; Riding). As geographer and environmentalist Pete Hay has noted, tropes connoting islands are reversible and underscore varying assumptions about politics, culture and gender (27). On the one hand, the coastline is the geographical border protecting the British Isles from an invasion and defining the contour of the “fortress-island” (Beer 266, 270). Romney Marsh, for instance, used to be one of the Cinque Ports protecting the south-eastern coast of England, a particularly vulnerable stretch (Ford 2, 29-30; Riding 61). But the coast is also a fluid boundary enabling exchange and trade, belying any binary logic. Geographical and fictional examples abound to support the notion that the coast is what Hay calls “a liberated zone” and “a site of possibility” (22). The coast and the proximity of the sea prompt Virginia Woolf’s reflections on “the porous nature of solidity” in To the Lighthouse (Bradshaw 110) and they may even accommodate transgression (Helsinger 116-117), as shown by fictional representations of coastal subversive spaces in the fiction of Daphne Du Maurier and Tracy Chevalier (notably in Remarkable Creatures).

11In Nash’s early depictions of Dymchurch, the coast may be construed as edge rather than margin. In Promenade No1 and No2 for instance, the formalist abstract delineation of space creates a pattern counteracting formlessness, erosion and chaos [Fig. 3]. The threat of dissolution is dramatized in chapter 8 of Black Dog as Nash is leaving Southampton on his way to France across the Channel, by night, in the fog (an episode derived from Outline, 181-182, letter to his wife dated 22nd February 1917): “in this featureless place I feel suddenly like a falling man, unable to find purchase on the world”, and the narrator adds: “we are alone against a black canvas. Formless potential” (chapter 8, panels 7 and 8). But in this instance, the crossing reverses the former pattern as the sea now plays the same structural role as the seawall since it separates and binds two lands, England and France. When Nash’s Dymchurch motif occurs in chapter 13, the narrator has lost his bearings. Comparing himself to a “featureless pebble on the seashore” (panel 16), he wonders “what was it I was looking for?” (panel 5). At this point, McKean introduces a reflexive pattern as Nash looks at a remote figure across the water that turns out to be his wife Margaret but initially looks like his own shadow, an ambiguity which is reinforced by the shift in point of view from panel 4 (where Nash faces the viewer) to panel 5 (where he has his back turned on the viewer). The oppositional landscape of warfare which implicitly underscores the Dymchurch setting is morphed into a self-reflexive and interactive landscape. McKean renders the relationship between viewer and landscape in a way that recalls Nash’s remark on Dymchurch, pondering on “a place like that and its effect on me—one’s effect on it” (letter to A. Bertram, 2nd March 1925, cited in Causey 1980, 112).

12Thus, by dramatizing the crossing as both separation and connection, McKean gives visibility to what Roger Cardinal has described as Nash’s creative principle: “the interchangeability of seeming opposites, like land and sea”, a principle ruled by “a paradigm of metamorphic vision governed by the principle of unconstrained convertibility” (Cardinal 48, 58; emphasis in the text). In the title page, McKean’s narrator describes the retrieval of lost memories as a “balancing act”: “That is the artist’s balancing act. It is so easy to fall off this narrow pathway into the mud either side” (title page). Whether it be on a duckboard or a sea wall, the narrator is walking along a path that is also a hinge and an interface.

Landscape, mediascape, memory-scape

13Black Dog is a self-reflexive graphic narrative that dramatizes an artist’s recovery after a traumatic experience as well as the author’s own biographical quest and hermeneutic work. It provides a metamedial comment on the migration of images and on remedial processes. The last part of this article seeks to determine how this is exemplified by the reprise of the coastline motif and it examines what this strategy reveals about the nature of landscape as medium.

14We have seen that mental images return to haunt the narrator. Their resurgence affects Nash’s impressionable mind, and this is translated by what could be termed McKean’s spectral paradigm, a mode already explored in previous works such as Signal to Noise (Gaiman and McKean 1992), and which involves a wealth of technical and compositional means. For instance, Chapter 14 is framed by two full-page panels that represent Rye Harbour (BD panel 2) and the famous Wittenham Clumps (closing panel), embedding two juxtaposed sequences: Nash and Claud Lovat Fraser walking along Rye Harbour, discussing shell shock and impending death, and Nash witnessing the death of a young soldier killed by a sniper on the front. The narrative contiguity of these episodes is reinforced by the visual evocation of a trench in the shape of an arm of the Rye marshes in the first panel and by the superimposition of figures attending Lovat Fraser’s funeral onto the hill of the Wittenham Clumps in the closing panel.

  • 9 Or, to use Lars Elleström’s terminology, a remediation of the qualified medium of engraving (30, 32 (...)
  • 10 This evokes Nash’s striking gestural technique in The Bay (1922; G. 20 in Greenwood) where “the pul (...)
  • 11 Greenwood corrects Postan’s statement that Nash used the same block for both images and insists tha (...)

15Central to Black Dog’s spectral mode is the notion that dreams and memories are mental imprints. The Dymchurch panel suggests that engraving provides a metaphorical template based on intermedial reference.9 The Dymchurch engravings were Nash’s first serious foray into the medium (Brett 16) and Alexander Postan considers Promenade No2 to be one of his first “woodcuts of any authority” (8) [Fig. 3]. Black Dog’s narrator states that the “reimagining” of his life is achieved through “a process of impressionism”: “Somewhere, back there in that long-lost original sketch, was a stab at the truth, but with each iteration something is lost, but some other thing is revealed—the pressure of our imaginations on reality” (title page). This “balancing act” that consists in counterbalancing what is lost with what is gained, not only evokes the dynamic processes that inform the coastline, but “the stab”10 also suggests an analogy with engraving—and with surgery as well, but this will not be tackled here. Among all of the mediums used by Nash, wood engraving foregrounded formalist and technical concerns with particular efficacy. The relation between Promenade No1 and Promenade No2 underscores reversibility as the technical condition for the migration of an image. Reversibility is technically achieved through printing: the original incision on the woodblock is reversed once printed. Nash’s Dymchurch engravings provide a material equivalence for the reversibility of battlefield into coastline in a material and technical way since the furrows carved into the woodblock print white, which means that the graphic outline of the seawall is the reversed image of a trench (its carved trace on the woodblock). Such reversibility is also implied in the panel depicting Rye Harbour (chapter 14, panel 2) where the water evokes the negative image of a trench (as represented in chapter 9 for instance). Moreover, Promenade No2 is the actual “mirror image” of Promenade No1 (Brett 16). As Greenwood explains, “Nash must have printed G.9 [Promenade No1] on to the block of G.10 [Promenade No2] before engraving it in a style later than any of the 1920 engravings” (33), which shows how these seminal pictures were used by Nash to explore the technical constraints of reversibility and the dynamics of image migration in terms of positive and negative values. This is further emphasized by such oppositions as high tide and low tide in Promenade No1 and No2 respectively and by their tonal inversions (alternatively dark and white sea and wall). 11

16Of course, McKean’s intermedial references are not limited to engraving and he also demonstrates a large range of skills (Dueben). He first draws sketches which he reworks in a variety of mediums and he sometimes goes through a digital phase to complete his work. The Dymchurch panel is “collaged from several elements, drawings of Nash, the dog and the seagull in pencil, an ink and acrylic background, cut paper shapes for the shadows, etc., all assembled in Photoshop” (personal email, April 30 2018). He also explains that with Photoshop he learned to play “with transparency and translucency”, adding:

The great thing you can do with a computer is a layering of images, where you get a sense of something through the mist—through layers of information, time, colour or objects, that each have their own histories or life that they bring to the image as well. I love that way of showing memories, or showing the way the mind works. It feels like an accurate representation of our dreams and our thought processes. (Morell; my emphasis)

17The emergence of images implies a medial layering that combines spectral resurgence and imprint. In chapter 8 of Black Dog, the mist is compared to “a black canvas” (panel 8) that evokes the inked woodblock on which no incision has yet been made, perhaps an indirect reference to Nash’s first illustration in his series of wood-engravings Genesis (1924).12 The narrator also states from the outset of chapter 8 that “Southampton docks are scumbled by mist” (panel 2). The surfacing of images is therefore enabled and prevented at the same time. Scumble is a technique that enables McKean to reveal as well as to erase since the underlying image is partially screened but allowed to show through.

18The final reproduction on glossy paper creates a sense of fluidity and the effect of a glowing patina unifying the whole, especially in the sequences where the panels are not separated by gutters. This, in a sense, materializes what remediation is about, the partial absorption and refashioning of older mediums into newer ones (Bolter and Grusin 15, 65). However this cannot be construed as seamless crossover. As we have seen, what the Dymchurch panel invites us to consider is the interplay between connectedness and separation, as instanced in the antithetical values of margin and edge and in McKean’s technical effects of screening and revealing. In that sense, the remediation of the coastline is an intermedial statement about the porosity and the containment encapsulated by the borders between media. But the coastline as ecotone is also the trope that metaphorizes the landscape as medium: as its etymology shows, a medium stands in between, it is an interspace (Elleström 13) that foregrounds the common definition of intermedial practice as medial border-crossing. It has to be noted that Elleström challenges this definition, arguing that “one is actually not much helped by the notion that intermediality is the crossing of conventional borders” (38). Yet the present article follows Irina Rajewsky’s qualification that taking into account the dynamic function of borders is fruitful. Reflecting on the fact that a medium is a construct “conventionally perceived as distinct”, Rajewsky contends that in the case of intermedial references, the medial difference “cannot be effaced” (62; emphasis in the text). She insists that the concept of border must be reinstated and not erased as certain critics have done. She emphasizes “the dynamic and creative potential of the border itself. The borders or—perhaps better—‘border zones’ between media can thus be understood as enabling structures, as spaces in which we can test and experiment with a plethora of different strategies” (64).

  • 13 Hay contends that “island studies should look sceptically upon literary and cultural studies perspe (...)
  • 14 I am indebted to Claire Omhovère who uses Berque’s concept of “médiance” in her article “Out of the (...)

19Thus the notion of moving across borders leads us to consider the underlying analogy between intermedial relations and landscape in the particular case of the coastline. The metaphorical shift may seem to be unwarranted and it is indeed seamlessly enacted in many publications referring to media landscapes as ecosystems. Compounding natural and medial environments would in effect betray a form of theoretical slippage, were it not for the critical precedents that invite us to look more closely at the link between landscape and intermedial relations (pace Hay).13 This takes us back to the early days of mediology when Regis Debray defined mediaspheres as “ecosystems of vision” and their borders as “contact zones” (286, 287; my translation). Mediology is often overlooked by recent scholars of intermediality, one exception being Bernd Herzogenrath who quotes Debray and advocates an “ecology that acknowledges the interdependency of cultural and natural media” (3). But it is the geographer Augustin Berque who articulates the conceptual link between mediaspheres, landscape and medium most significantly.14 Interestingly, Berque, who initiated the study of mésologie (mesology being the study and science of milieux) and the concept of médiance, stresses the affinity between mediology and mesology, since both of them rely on similar definitions of the medium as milieu— understood as the relation between a given society and nature (Berque 2000, 48, 54; Berque 2015, 174). The milieu is characterized by a double movement of introjection and projection negating the dualist opposition between object and subject, in the wake of Merleau-Ponty’s articulation of chiasm. As part of the phenomenological turn in landscape studies, Berque’s aim is to bridge the divide between man and nature that opened at the time of the scientific revolution, an observation that recalls Gillis’s definition of the coast line as “shap(ing) the shore according to rational design” and to Cartesian binaries (2012, 104, 105).

20Berque’s concepts are not only relevant because they encompass the notions of media ecology (Debray) and of cultural landscape (Jacques; Roe and Taylor) but because they also solve the contradiction between a topographical and a metaphorical view of intermediality. Discussing the relation between music and poetry, Lars Englund argues that the topographical view of “media as adjacent, geographical areas” should be suspended “in order for the arts to exist simultaneously in the mind of the percipient” (75, 79). Berque invalidates the need for such suspension. His view is that landscape is at once the symbolic and perceptual dimension of a given milieu, and its apprehension is governed by a medial and historical interaction defined as trajection (Berque 2000, 48). In that sense, Nash and McKean have captured the inherent médiance of the coastline, that is its meaning and affordance, which is characterized by connectedness and separation, by the co-existence and reversibility of opposites. The motif of the coastline does not solve as much as it accommodates contradictions construed as potential reversibility. Hence the role of the seawall as hinge combines the functions of topographical boundary and metaphorical interface, both of which define the function of a medium. Chapter 11 of Black Dog offers an analogy between the human mind and an egg, two “frangible shells” that co-exist with war and violence. Trying to come to terms with those irreconcilable facts, the narrator wonders whether insanity lies “[i]n the place in my mind where these two things touch?” (panel 25). At other times, instead of focusing on what welds things together, he stresses lines of separation, as when he tries to keep his balance on a duckboard or reflects on “the tensions of a world on a knife edge” (chapter 4, panel 7). Within this network of references, the Dymchurch panel encapsulates the way a particular place comes to raise issues about our relation to landscape and to mediascape.

21McKean’s graphic novel has a specific historical function since it commemorates the First World War and an iconic artist. McKean’s reprise of Nash’s pictures is a tribute to his celebration of the English landscape and of the spirit of place, a key term in the construction of Englishness. As such it participates in collective memory and in the sense of national identity whose spectral and fetishist nature has been underlined by Ryan Trimm (17) and by Mellor (25). The coastline is one of the topographical features in which national identity is embedded (Trimm 230-239) because of its historical strategic function and emblematic space in conservation policies. If we see the coastline as a cultural border, then, McKean is a steward of English heritage. But the coastline is also a site of fluid exchange and Nash’s interaction with it is explored by McKean in a way that is congruent with recent definitions of landscape as “experiential and interactive” (Roe and Taylor 17) and of the processual nature of cultural landscapes. McKean’s remedial strategies, his metamorphic imagination, his display of surrealist and destabilizing images dramatize persistence as resurgence and layeredness. Looking at the coastline as remediated memory-scape teaches us that cultural continuity is a process of constant erasure and restoration: “Somewhere, back there in that long-lost original sketch, was a stab at the truth, but with each iteration something is lost, but some other thing is revealed” (title page).

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1 Black Dog is unpaginated. It is referred to as BD.

2 McKean’s website provides ample information about the great variety of works that he has produced as graphic artist, filmmaker, musician and composer:, last accessed October 30 2018.

3 All my thanks go to Dave McKean who gave me kind permission to reproduce the first three panels of chapter 13 of Black Dog. What I refer to as the Dymchurch panel is the second panel in Figure 1.

4 Nash experimented with a variety of mediums. In a letter to his friend Gordon Bottomley of 1925, he wrote: “I am less & less concerned with picture-making & more & more interested by this elusive something which a painter pursues in painting, an engraver in engraving, a draughtsman in drawing” (Abbott and Bertram 184). What he was pursuing was “plastic values” (184), pattern, a formalist approach to space that he derived from his work in Dymchurch and that paved the way for his experiments with abstraction.

5 On the conflicting records of Nash’s illness by his wife Margaret and by Dr. Gordon Holmes (who subsequently declared him cured of what he had diagnosed as meningitis), see King 101-103.

6 See for instance the wood engraving The Bay (dated 1922 by Greenwood 42/G.20 and 1923 by Postan W27):, last accessed 30 October 2019.

7 See Greenwood (G.9 and G.10, 32-33) and Postan (W9 and W10). Promenade No 1 (1920) is available at (last accessed 30 October 2018). Nash produced four different engravings of Dymchurch, between 1920 and 1923 (Greenwood G.9-11, G. 20). It should be noted however that the Dymchurch set contains variations in viewpoint, and in particular later pictures (paintings and watercolours) where the viewer faces the sea.

8 For instance, compare the composition of Promenade No 2 [Fig. 3] with that of the lithograph Rain, Zillebeke Lake (1917).
URL:, last accessed 30 October 2019.

9 Or, to use Lars Elleström’s terminology, a remediation of the qualified medium of engraving (30, 32).

10 This evokes Nash’s striking gestural technique in The Bay (1922; G. 20 in Greenwood) where “the pull and thrust of the elements is made shockingly present in torn, almost savage cutting […]. The cuts appear made with difficulty or with exceptional physical attack” (Brett 17). Black Dog provides a variation on the meaning of the stab (as stab of pain and scratch on the retina, see for instance chapter 11, panels 2 and 4).

11 Greenwood corrects Postan’s statement that Nash used the same block for both images and insists that there are two blocks, one for each image (32). Yet Postan’s view that the two prints “can be thought of as first and second states, the same block being used in each case” is presented on the Tate website in the online catalogue entry for Promenade No2.
URL:, last accessed 30 October 2019.

12 This first illustration entitled “The Void” is available at:, last accessed 30 October 2018.

13 Hay contends that “island studies should look sceptically upon literary and cultural studies perspectives that dismiss the physicality of islands whilst promoting the relevance of metaphorical abstractions” (29).

14 I am indebted to Claire Omhovère who uses Berque’s concept of “médiance” in her article “Out of the Garrison and Beyond”.

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Table des illustrations

Légende Fig. 1. Dave McKean, Black Dog: The Dreams of Paul Nash, panels 1, 2 and 3 of chapter 13 (n.p.).
Crédits © Dave McKean
Fichier image/jpeg, 772k
Légende Fig. 2. Paul Nash, The Shore (1923), oil on canvas, 62.2x94 cm, Leeds City Art Gallery.
Crédits © Leeds Museums and Galleries (Leeds Art Gallery) U.K. / Bridgeman Images
Fichier image/png, 1,5M
Légende Fig. 3. Promenade No 2 (1923 [1920]), wood engraving, 13.7x15.6 cm, Tate collections
Crédits © Tate, London, 2018. CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported). URL:​art/​artworks/​nash-promenade-ii-p01026
Fichier image/jpeg, 414k
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Sophie Aymes, « Promenade Along the Coast: Paul Nash and Dave McKean Revisit Dymchurch »Polysèmes [En ligne], 22 | 2019, mis en ligne le 22 décembre 2019, consulté le 31 juillet 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Sophie Aymes

Sophie Aymes est maître de conférences à l’université de Bourgogne (Dijon) où elle enseigne la littérature et la culture visuelle britanniques. Membre du laboraroire TIL (EA 4182), ses recherches portent sur les questions d’intermédialité ainsi que sur l’estampe et l’illustration en Grande-Bretagne dans la première moitié du XXe siècle. Elle a publié sur des artistes et écrivains tels que Michael Ayrton, A.S. Byatt, Benjamin Britten, Graham Greene, Peter Lanyon, Mervyn Peake et John Piper, et de manière générale sur l’illustration, l’estampe, la gravure sur bois, le Néo-romantisme et le paysage. Elle est co-rédactrice en chef de la revue bilingue Interfaces, spécialisée dans les rapports entre texte et image, et co-fondatrice de Illustr4tio, groupe de recherche et réseau spécialisé dans les études sur l’illustration.

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