ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe

artistic development:

enamel paint In 1976 Colquhoun wrote that ‘From the middle 1960’s I have used enamel paint, more or less diluted, in a semi automatic way to bring about the emergence of what Breton called the Convulsive Landscape’. (1) She was not the first to use enamel in this manner. In 1938 Gordon Onslow Ford had begun experimenting with automatic techniques, including one which he termed coulage in which enamel paints were poured onto the canvas and allowed to spread freely. Perhaps Colquhoun was thinking back to her time at Chemillieu with Onslow Ford when she began to use enamel. Some of the works in enamel, especially the early ones, are comparatively large. Haunted Hedge (1970) is one of several that are over three feet in their longer dimension. In 1977, however, she began to use enamel on a much smaller scale, and on paper. In a burst of creative energy unseen since her 1939 exhibition, Colquhoun produced over 100 works in enamel paint between 1977 and 1979. With the paper horizontal, she poured paint onto the surface, tilting and stirring, the gesture becoming the image. Sometimes the paint was diluted, giving the surface a shallow, semi-matt appearance, like a liquid stain. At other times undiluted paint has a lacquer-like hardness and reflective brilliance, producing images of great depth and mystery. Despite the new medium, her preoccupations are unchanged. There is, for example, marine imagery, in works such as Sea Depths (1978), imagery that derives from alchemical change and transformation, such as Primal Fire (1978) or Earth Bubbles (1979), and, in works such as Moonlight through Mist (1978) there is the beauty of nature; not of individual plants and flowers, but of the landscape and the seasons. In these works she shows aspects of nature on local, global and cosmic scales. The images seem to originate from deep within the artist, but also in deep waters, deep space and remote time. They constitute a cosmology; images of great lyrical energy, power and delicacy, distilled from the artist’s private world. They mix the celestial with the earthly and the personal with the universal. Despite their small size, they appear to be boundless, the image capable of expanding infinitely in all directions. We can imagine her pouring, tilting and stirring the fast-drying paint with broad movements of arm and body. As she worked, we can almost hear her humming along to the music of the spheres. The apogee of this cosmic vision came with the design of a set of Taro cards in 1977 and, a year later, ten designs for the sephiroth of the Qabalistic Tree of Life. Colquhoun’s Taro is not a pack in the traditional sense of playable cards. It is very different to the well known Rider Waite pack that consists of cards with illustrative names such as “The Fool” and “The Hanged Man”. Instead, these are individual paintings with esoteric titles such as “The Lord of Unstable Effort” and “The Prince of the Chariot of Air”. They are abstract in form, automatic in technique and use the colour symbolism found in Golden Dawn teachings. Intended as meditation glyphs, the cards represent the synthesis of her art and magic. notes 1. Colquhoun, I. Introduction to exhibition catalogue. “Ithell Colquhoun: Surrealism, Paintings, Drawings, Collages 1936-76”. Penzance: Newlyn-Orion Galleries, 1976.
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