This simple, almost flat, statement is really quite stunning in its apparent awareness of what painting, that essentially flat medium, is attempting to do in the deliberate juxta-position of colours. The task of abstract painting is thus described as attempting almost the same “parlous loftiness” Sebald attributes to Browne. The material of Art points towards an immateriality. When I read this quote of Nash’s for the first time I immediately thought of how this might also describe the ambitions of the written, and of poetry in particular. This was even before I had read his next paragraph:
A few years later in the course of making a series of drawings to illustrate Sir Thomas Browne’s Urne Buriall, I came upon the sentence referring to the soul visiting the Mansions of the Dead. This idea stirred my imagination deeply. I could see the emblem of the soul—a little winged creature, perhaps not unlike the ghost moth—perched upon the airy habitations of the skies which in their turn sailed and swung from cloud to cloud and then into space once more. It did not occur to me for a moment that the Mansions of the Dead could be situated anywhere but in the sky…the importance of this particular opportunity was that it afforded a further adventure in flight. (5)
It is as if Nash and Sebald were both elevated by exactly the same text in exactly the same way. They are both brought, separately, to similar revelations. It is the revelation of the soul transcending the body.