ithell colquhoun magician born of nature
All texts copyright Richard Shillitoe

artistic development:

‘mural’ painting Even whilst developing her range of automatisms, Colquhoun maintained her interest in conventional techniques of painting, in particular those used for murals. She used the word ‘mural’ in two ways: one, to indicate a large wall-hung painting and the other to mean the use of traditional fresco techniques. Her interest in large-scale painting was long-standing: her unsuccessful attempts at the Rome Scholarship in Mural Painting have already been mentioned. She carried out some murals (in reality, large easel paintings) for the recently renovated hospital in Moreton in Marsh, Gloucestershire, in 1936-1937. During the war, as a member of a group of painters calling themselves the West London Group she painted panels for the British Restaurant in Hammersmith. Colquhoun’s sketches survive, but of the paintings itself there is no trace. (1) Other than this, her ambitions to produce site-specific works were largely unfulfilled. The most ambitious scheme, in conjunction with the architect Trevor Dannatt, for murals for Maze Hill Congregational Church in Greenwich, came to nothing. (2) Had it come to fruition, the more conservative of the churchgoers might have been bemused to discover that her designs, including Crucifixion (c.1953) combined Christian themes with occult colour theory. In 1941 she wrote to Pigotts in High Wycombe enquiring whether she could be accepted as an apprentice in mural and fresco painting. She received a reply from Denis Tegetmeier, who had worked at Pigotts with his father-in-law Eric Gill until the latter’s death in 1940, and who had subsequently issued a prospectus announcing his intention of maintaining Pigotts as a home for arts and crafts. Her approach was unsuccesful - hardly surprising in war-time when the demand for murals had surely dried up - but that her interest in traditional methods of painting was sincere was confirmed by a series of articles published in 1944-5 (3) in which she explained the techniques of true fresco in considerable technical detail. Although she made it clear that she was writing from personal experience, no examples of her use of true fresco (that is to say, the application of paint directly into wet plaster), are known. In a further article she described how to prepare gesso panels for what she described as ‘decorative paintings’. During her discussion she commented that ‘I have frequently sawn up disused cupboards or tables and utilized the resulting panels with success.’ Works on recycled pieces of furniture include Tree Anatomy (1942), An Eclipse (1944) and Landscape of Nightmare (1945). In all, five articles were published in “The Illustrated Carpenter and Builder”; an unlikely outlet for an artist who, at that time, was also painting some of her masterpieces of automatism and had just completed her most original occult watercolours. On a lighter note, the closest she came to painting on plaster is probably Oil and Water Nymph (1964) which is painted on a piece of plaster-board. The recto of this unusual support is covered in anaglypta wallpaper with a waterproof emulsion finish: perhaps she was having some alterations made to her bathroom at the time. Notes 1. Other members of the West London Group were Ruskin Spear, Julian Trevelyan and George Downs. See “Picture Post”, 6 November 1943, pp. 12-13 for photographs of the murals being painted. According to the archivist of the well known London Group, it was not associated with that group, as might be thought, and nothing further appears to be known about it. 2. See Stonehouse, R. 2008. “Trevor Dannatt: Works and Words”. London: Black Dog Publishing. 3. Tegetmeier’s letter is at TGA 929/1/2231.
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