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Artists Ithell Colquhoun
Ithell Colquhoun Photo

Ithell Colquhoun

British Painter, Poet, and Novelist

Movement: Surrealism

Born: October 9, 1906 - Shillong, India

Died: April 11, 1988 - Lamorna, United Kingdom

Ithell Colquhoun Timeline

Quotes

"At six I experienced a kind of waking coma, when my eyes would automatically fix themselves on some object, uninteresting in itself, and be glued there while my mind became a blank. This lasted for seconds, perhaps a minute. I thought of absolutely nothing, not even the visual appearance of the object; but what was happening below the level of thought?"
Ithell Colquhoun
"At ten, I said that when I grew up, I never wanted to do anything but paint and write and study nature. Already I knew my own mind."
Ithell Colquhoun
"If I say that at ten years old I imagined Christ as a hermaphrodite, I shall not be believed. Yet it was so...I fused the red-hearted Jesus with the blue-cloaked Mary and made a god with breasts."
Ithell Colquhoun
"The act of painting, therefore, becomes an act of divination that connects the artist to natural and spiritual forces. Automatic paintings reveal the interconnectedness of the inner and outer worlds, the subject and the object, the I and the Other."
Ithell Colquhoun
"Does not all inspiration come from 'the multitudinous abyss?"
Ithell Colquhoun
"My life is uneventful, but I sometimes have an interesting dream."
Ithell Colquhoun
"I had always objected to political commitments unsupported by action...effective revolutionary action was a full-time job and, therefore, irreconcilable with a creative life."
Ithell Colquhoun
"Cornwall never lets one down, whatever it may seem to be doing; Lamorna can do anything to me and I will not only put up with it but enjoy it. Friends in London have suspected a romance to account for its attraction, but the truth is stranger than gossip. I am identified with every leaf and pebble, and any threatened hurt to the wilderness of the valley seems to me a rape."
Ithell Colquhoun
"Noise, dust, litter make such places all but uninhabitable, and certainly far from ideal for concentrating on creative work."
Ithell Colquhoun

"I started painting at the age of four or five; in fact I cannot remember a time when I was not painting."

Synopsis

Ithell Colquhoun sees the divine design of nature infused through all living things. Rock formations, tree stumps, and vegetables transform to become human limbs and body parts. The artist had a lifelong love for water and an interest in the depths of meaning found at the site of liminal spaces. Early in her career she included doorways, windows, and staircases in her paintings, and sometimes depicted the human figure. Later, as Colquhoun's work reached maturity, she looked entirely to nature; she rejected figuration and repeated earthy subjects such as volcanoes, caves, and rock pools. She paradoxically explored themes of ambiguity, instability, and union.
With strong alchemical leanings, Colquhoun sought to combine the land and sea, fluid and solid matter, and the male and the female. She was particularly influenced by Salvador Dalí's "phantasmic presences", and her enlarged images of flora spark interesting comparisons with those of Georgia O'Keeffe. Almost entirely self-taught, the artist spent years working in London where she became associated with the Surrealists, but by whom she was also labeled dissident due to her strong beliefs in the occult. Colquhoun settled in remote Cornwall where she could find suitable inspiration in nature and move away from people.

Key Ideas

The artist created a new language of female sexuality that did not privilege desire and erotic fantasies of the femme enfant as in the work of the male Surrealists. In her explorations, always with a starting point in nature and often introducing humor and parody, Colquhoun considered a more mature and maternal sexuality, and as such spoke directly to realistic and long-standing female experience.
Not only a painter and visual artist, Colquhoun was also a prolific and well acclaimed writer. She published a sell-out novel, two travelogues, many short stories, poems, journal articles, and a series of theoretical texts. She wrote "The Mantic Stain" in October 1949 and as such was one of only a few women to contribute a rigorous and revealing theoretical text to Surrealism, thus in turn adding to the intellectual legacy of the movement.
There were few Surrealists who used automatic techniques as extensively as Ithell Colquhoun. She not only experimented with decalcomania (paint blotting), collage, and frottage (creating surface rubbings) like other artists associated with the group, but she also invented her own technique of 'parsemage' whereby she made images by sprinkling powder, either pigment or broken charcoal onto the surface of water and then placed a sheet of paper on top. This was a technique then adopted by other artists and accordingly added to the list of possible 'automatic' processes invented and disseminated by Surrealist practitioners.
Colquhoun was an authority on the occult and on magical practice. She felt great affinity for the female contribution to the occult headed by Moina Mathers and Helena Blavatsky and endeavored to continue the tradition. The artist believed in the great powers of Hecate, the earth goddess, and as such supported fertility cults, rites performed to encourage crops to grow (fittingly she was photographed caressing sheaves of wheat by Man Ray in 1932), and associated herself with mountains, hollows, and wild places as an inspiration to other artists interested in similar esoteric themes.

Biography

Ithell Colquhoun Photo

Childhood and Education

Margaret Ithell Colquhoun was born in Shillong, Assam, India where her British father Henry Colquhoun was stationed for his government job with the Indian Civil Service. While her father continued to live in India until his retirement in 1921, early in her life, sometime between the age of one and three years old, Colquhoun returned home to England with her mother and younger brother.

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Ithell Colquhoun Biography Continues

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Influenced by Artist
Artists, Friends, Movements
Ithell Colquhoun
Interactive chart with Ithell Colquhoun's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
View Influences Chart

Artists

André BretonAndré Breton
Salvador DalíSalvador Dalí
Marcel DuchampMarcel Duchamp
Max ErnstMax Ernst
Roberto MattaRoberto Matta

Personal Contacts

Leonora CarringtonLeonora Carrington
Peter Owen
Humfry Payne
Derek Stanford

Movements

DadaDada
SurrealismSurrealism

Influences on Artist
Ithell Colquhoun
Ithell Colquhoun
Years Worked: 1927 - 1988
Influenced by Artist

Artists

Eileen AgarEileen Agar
André BretonAndré Breton
Toni Romanov del Renzio
Edith Rimmington

Personal Contacts

Leonora CarringtonLeonora Carrington
Peter Owen
Humfry Payne
Derek Stanford

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Jessica DiPalma
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Rebecca Baillie
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