Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form


12 June 2024 | Exhibitions
Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form 1
Exhibition view: Ithell Colquhoun, Elemental, Ben Hunter, London (31 May–26 July 2024). Courtesy Ben Hunter, London. Photo: Jack Elliot Edwards.
Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form 2
Exhibition view: Ithell Colquhoun, Elemental, Ben Hunter, London (31 May–26 July 2024). Courtesy Ben Hunter, London. Photo: Jack Elliot Edwards.
Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form 3
Ithell Colquhoun, Alcove I (1946). Oil on board. 22.9 x 34.3 cm. Courtesy Ben Hunter, London. Photo: Jack Elliot Edwards.
Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form 4
Ithell Colquhoun, Alcove II (1948). Oil on board. 22.9 x 34.3 cm. Courtesy Ben Hunter, London. Photo: Jack Elliot Edwards.
Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form 5
Exhibition view: Ithell Colquhoun, Elemental, Ben Hunter, London (31 May–26 July 2024). Courtesy Ben Hunter, London. Photo: Jack Elliot Edwards.
Ithell Colquhoun: Flesh and Form 6
Exhibition view: Ithell Colquhoun, Elemental, Ben Hunter, London (31 May–26 July 2024). Courtesy Ben Hunter, London. Photo: Jack Elliot Edwards.

Ithell Colquhoun's paintings, with their fecund, fleshy forms, are deliberately ambiguous and transfixing.

Ovary-like shapes and unusual growths covered in capillaries drift across craggy landscapes. In Gorgon (1946), forms reminiscent of fallopian tubes and clusters of polyps emerge, while in Alcove I (1946), a cavernous space in shades of blood-red and pink evokes the image of a vulva.

A member of the British Surrealist Group, Colquhoun was active in the movement until 1940, when her involvement with occultism led to her departure. Deeply interested in mysticism, feminist magical practices, and symbolism, she drew inspiration from alchemy, tarot, and mythology to create uncanny paintings often representing female fertility.

Since Tate acquired her archive of more than 5000 works in 2019, Colquhoun has gained increased recognition for her significant contributions to 20th-century art. At Ben Hunter in London, a selection of her paintings is on view in the exhibition Elemental from 31 May to 26 July 2024.

Featured works include Alcove I (1946) and Alcove II (1948), vulva-like spaces with fleshy, veiny walls housing blue, green, and yellow growths, and Volcanic Landscape (1969), a trippy vision of a marbled terrain, where colours bleed and swirl in psychedelic patterns.


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