ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe

artistic development:

constructions & collages In the early 1960s Colquhoun began to use found materials in her work. For her, collage and the use of found objects were automatic techniques. She saw them as visual equivalents of Lautréamont’s verbal collage that had so inspired the surrealists. In addition, she acknowledged her debt to Duchamp and Schwitters, writing that ‘it was the ‘ready throw-away’ which inspired me’. (1) Re-framing the ‘ready made’ as the ‘ready throw- away’ is a good example of Colquhoun’s natural ability to take an alternative perspective to the conventional and orthodox. Many of Colquhoun’s constructions, such as Cornish Landscape (1971) are made from packaging. Packaging forms a temporary container: its purpose is to surround and enclose an object. In Colquhoun’s hands the packaging becomes the object, which is itself then packaged within a frame. These constructions express, almost literally, Breton’s belief that ‘surreality would be embodied in reality itself and be neither superior nor exterior to it. And reciprocally, too, because the container would also be the contents’. (2) In the constructions she gives an afterlife to materials whose natural function has been outlived. Some, such as Ephesian Diana (1967) mark the increasing importance of goddess religions. The two versions of Embryo Fetish (1965) challenge the distinction between the animate and the inanimate, occupying an indeterminate position between life and non-life. There is an implicit contrast also between the softness and warmth of hatchlings and the cold hardness of a machine. The collages test our notions of reality and undermine the ways in which we normally perceive the world. Klingsor’s Castle (1981) challenges the laws of perspective. Bird of Passage (1963) associates human travel with the migration of birds. Colquhoun executed a significant number of constructions (over forty constructions and collages were exhibited at Exeter in 1970 and Penzance the following year), yet very few of them can now be traced. Several of those that are known are damaged and in poor condition. Given their poor durability, there is a tempting symmetry to the thought that the ‘ready throw-aways’ have, with the assistance of time, recycled themselves back into the rubbish from which they were born and from which she gave them temporary life. notes 1. Colquhoun, I. Introduction to exhibition catalogue. “Ithell Colquhoun: Surrealism, Paintings, Drawings, Collages 1936-76”. Penzance: Newlyn-Orion Galleries, 1976. 2. Breton, A. “Surrealism and Painting”. Translated by Simon Watson Taylor. New York: Harper and Row, 1972, p46.
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