To mark the closing day of our current group exhibition Song of Songs, we invited Richard Shillitoe and Rachel Thomas to explore the ideas behind the show. Delving deeper into Ithell Colguhoun's artistic practice, together they explore the largest collection of her works on show in London since 1977 and the contemporary works that accompany it.
RT: "Song of Songs: Representations of the self, spirituality and states of mind in art – from modernity to the digital age really explores the conversation between contemporary artists and Ithell Colquhoun, states of mind and society today.
"Ithell Colquhoun is a Surrealist artist who is very much at the centre of this exhibition. Her work as a polymath, a poet, an occultist, a painter, opens up all these doors in terms of our perception of reality and how artists, from Surrealism to the digital age, connect, exchange and converse on where we are in society.
"The contemporary artists include Stacey Gillian Abe, Jessica Harrison, Elaine Hoey, Bharti Kher, Linder, Richard Malone, Jesse Mockrin, Suchitra Muttai, Clare Ormerod, Matthew Stone, Grace Weir, and Anna Weyant. The exhibition focuses on states of mind using painting, VR commissions, embroidery, sculpture, drawing. It is a celebration of all art mediums as we trace the journey from Surrealism to now.
"I would like to introduce Richard Shillitoe who holds Ithell's legacy behind him. So I have to say thank you Richard for bringing Ithell to our attention. "
Man Ray, 1939, Centre Pompidou
RS: "The display of paintings by Ithell Colquhoun at Unit London is the most comprehensive exhibition of important paintings by her to be seen in London since 1977.
"All of Colquhoun’s creative activity - writing and painting - took place alongside her endless search for spiritual enlightenment. This was carried out through private study, meditation, and membership of numerous societies and groups. She is generally thought of as an occultist, that is, as someone who practices ceremonial, or practical magic, such as the performance of rituals to contact angels and spirits. That is true, but it is only one part of the story.
Ithell Colquhoun, Song of Songs, 1933, Oil on canvas, 86 x 72.5 cm
"Let’s look at some of her paintings in the exhibition and see what we can discover. This is one of Colquhoun’s finest post Slade works, a time when she was still interested in figure compositions, always finding her subjects in Biblical or classical sources. It’s not been exhibited in public since 1976, so it’s wonderful to have it on view. The Song of Songs or the Song of Solomon is a chapter in the Old Testament, famous for its erotic rather than its theological content.
"The painting is a tour de force of sensuality. From the flagon of wine, the luscious ripe fruit, the sexy red shoes, to the pink gems in the necklace, the whole thing oozes opulence from every brushstroke. "