I’ve always been drawn to Surrealist artwork. For me, there is something very powerful behind the spontaneous and often strange symbols. This week I’ve found myself looking at the work of British artist Ithell Colquhoun.
Colquhoun was born in India, but her parents moved back to England when she was a child. She studied painting at the Slade School of Art in London and traveled quite a bit through the Mediterranean countries after graduating, painting a number of fine watercolors of flowers and the countryside. She eventually returned back to England, briefly joined the Surrealist group that was active there, only to be kicked out in 1940 for her independent streak and refusal to give up her occult studies. This is strange to me, because surrealism always celebrated individuality and occult knowledge. But the leadership in the movement did become territorial and dictatorial as it evolved.
Colquhoun liked using the double image technique, allowing multiple interpretations for the same picture. She also experimented with decalcomania and other forms of automatism, using various methods of applying paint randomly to her canvas or paper and then interpreting the resulting stains and marks.
In addition to painting, Colquhoun was also a poet, novelist, and practicing magician. She regarded all these activities as intimately related to each other, presenting different ways of understand nature. For much of her adult life she lived and worked in Cornwall, drawn by a sense of connectedness with the landscape and with the local myths and traditions.