Ithell Colquhoun

Ithell Colquhoun

My story with Ithell began at the Virginia Woolf , Cornwall Inspired by her writing exhibition at the Tate , St Ives early 2018.

An inspired exhibition of womens art from 1850 to modern day who are in some way inspired or connected by Woolf and her themes.

Ithell’s painting ‘Stalacite 1962’ attracted me for it’s composition and at first was just a great painting of Nanjizal cave, but it was so much more.

This excerpt is from the extensive website of Ithell Coloquhoun.

“Colquhoun’s art is an art of transformation. She had an enduring preoccupation with transient states; those moments of instability when something is neither one thing nor the other but possesses qualities of both. Moments such as these occur in the natural world, the human world and the realm of the spirit. Volcanoes, caves, rock pools, wells and fountains are places that can be said to form a permeable interface between the surface of the physical world and the underworld and, symbolically, between the physical and the spiritual worlds.
The action of soft water on hard rock may eventually sculpt a cave. A cave is a place of ambiguity. At some point it changes from surface feature to subterranean structure. It may offer both protection and shelter but it can also trap and imprison. In mythology a cave is often an aperture that connects this world with the underworld. Because of their vulva-like entrance passages that penetrate into the earth, caves have been identified as the womb of Mother Earth, and associated with the mysteries of birth. The most memorable of her paintings of caves is Stalactite (1962) in which a tall phallic stalactite stands within the cave passage. It emerges from a watery pool, a potent symbol of female sexuality, and one that is that is strengthened by the appearance of a clitoris-shaped island at the end of the passageway. Paintings of rock pools (e.g. Rock Pool, c.1947), together with the Santa Warna series of watercolours and poems, bear witness to her long standing interest in the liminal zone where the land meets the sea, where the element water interacts with the element earth and which forms a gateway from the world of the living to the world of the dead.The defining feature of a rock pool is its transience: it exists only between high and low tides. The intertidal zone is thus a place of transition and transformation. At times belonging to the water and at times belonging to the land, at times wet and at times dry, at times fluid and at times solid, at times visible and at times concealed, it is a place that is neither one thing nor the other. Its existence is determined by tidal processes, themselves largely influenced by lunar forces. It is a dynamic area, intrinsically ambiguous, where water, the purifier, scours and cleanses the land. The ocean represents the chaos of creation out of which land is born. Water also stands for the instinctive and the unconscious; the land for autonomic biological processes which lie below the threshold of awareness. The foreshore is the place where consciousness is drowned and immersed in the unconscious and where material from the unconscious emerges into consciousness.
Deep stuff , but fascinating.
Ithell was a great writer too and her books have recently been republished. ‘The living stones’ is her story of coming to Cornwall and her writings of the local area and traditions. It’s beautifully written and imagines of a time when Cornwall still had real character but modernisation was calling.
The book made me want to know more and I discovered that she is quite revered down in Lamorna and especially in the mystical circles. There have been talks and exhibitions and her legacy lives on. She must have been one very special lady and followed her heart and her dreams and led a very creative life in all sorts of ways. Something I definately aspire too.
The infamous Stalacite painting…. what do you think 😉
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