The Summer Solstice found Strange Flowers in the Cornish hamlet of Lamorna, once home to Ithell Colquhoun. It seems only appropriate that on this, the shortest day of the year, we return to Colquhoun with a look at a recently discovered and newly released work by the artist and writer.
Decad of Intelligence (Fulgur) is not a book in any conventional understanding of the word, and this brief commentary is not a book review, but a simple appreciation, an expression of gratitude. Dressed in shimmering silver, the package arrived still cool from its journey, a moonbeam transubstantiated into cloth and card. Inside the sturdy slip cover is a folder in the same finish holding thick-backed cards and a slim bound volume that contains the text of the ten pieces and their corresponding images along with an introduction by Dr Amy Hale, who first brought them together. Hale outlines the influences on Colquhoun – Crowley, almost inevitably, but also Amédée Ozenfant’s colour theories, which further brings to mind the ‘tattwa’ cards designed in elemental colours by W. B. Yeats, who like Colquhoun was a member of the Golden Dawn order.
Decad of Intelligence emerged in the late 1970s. The title, which as a friend rightly pointed out sounds like a lost Fall album, refers to ten forms of intelligence (‘Admirable or Hidden Intelligence’, ‘Illuminating Intelligence’, ‘Sanctifying Intelligence’, and so on) drawn from the Sepher Yetzirah, an early text of Jewish esotericism. It was an arcane source which typified Colquhoun’s restless quest for occult knowledge.
The ten images are reproduced on the cards which slightly resemble place mats, although Colquhoun’s enamels would make a far more captivating mealtime conversation piece than scuffed and faded reproductions of Canaletto or Fragonard. The prints pulse with visceral intensity against their grey backgrounds. Just as Colquhoun’s incantatory free verse draws together archetypes, body parts, metals, vegetation and celestial bodies, the gushing colours of the enamels evoke butterflies, orchids, coral, prolapsed lagoons, uncharted deltas viewed from space, solar flares from undiscovered suns, brain matter under a microscope, melted ice cream in flavours since banned from human consumption. Whatever your susceptibility to the hermetic, the intensity and originality of vision on display here are undeniable, cast in the best possible light by the stunning presentation. Colquhoun, now a subject of greater interest than at any time since her death in 1988, could not have wished for a more sensitive and beautifully realised setting for her work.
Find out more in the video below (click here if you don’t see the video embedded):