Ithell Colquhoun
Pioneer Surrealist Artist, Occultist, Writer, and Poet

By Eric Ratcliffe

Mandrake of Oxford
PB, 316pp

Review by Soror Chamos for Avalonia

Ithell Colquhoun belongs to that exclusive club of talented magickal artists whose contribution to the modern magickal revival is frequently overlooked. This fascinating work is a series of views of different phases in the life of a talented surrealist artist who wouldn’t compromise. From being one of the key artists of the early Surrealist movement, her disdain for politics and social hedonism led to her marginalisation from the mainstream of Surrealism. This did nothing to halt her prolific output however, both of art and writing.

Colquhoun travelled prolifically, particularly around Europe, perhaps always seeking the ideal place for her. This she found in Cornwall, where she spent the latter years of her life. The wild magick and majesty of the Cornish countryside inspired her greatly, and this is reflected in the first appendix of the book, “Cornish Earth”, a glossary of phrases, words and beliefs, which she produced in 1971. A list of all her known artwork and exhibitions are also included as appendices.

From her interests in alchemy to Druidry, her involvement in the Golden Dawn to Kenneth Grant’s Nu-Isis lodge, Colquhoun bridged the birth pangs of the transitional period of the occult revival. Her friends and acquaintances reads like a list of many of the good, the bad and the ugly of twentieth century magick – from G.R.S. Mead and Moina Mathers to W.B. Crow and Edward Garstin. Scattered amongst the chapters are dozens of illustrations of Colquhoun’s work, both in black and white and colour, which combined with the many examples of her poetry give perhaps more of an insight into her character than the accompanying text, though this is also well executed.

All in all an excellent addition to the growing collection of books produced by Mandrake covering the interconnection of magick and surrealism.