automatismmayor gallery exhibitionsMany of Colquhoun’s most important works of the period were shown at two exhibitions at the Mayor Gallery in 1947. These two exhibitions, one of oil paintings and the other of drawings and watercolours, brought together works that employed a wide variety of automatic processes. The display of paintings must have been an astonishing visual tour de force. Individually, each has great physical presence. The hues, she wrote, are bright; vivid maroons, crimsons and scarlets, iridescent blues, acid yellows and glaucous undersea colours.In her catalogue introduction to the exhibition of paintings, E.H. Ramsden drew attention to Colquhoun’s persistent search for a profounder understanding of our relationship with the natural environment. For Colquhoun, this understanding was often sexual. Sex, as a biological force, is present in all of nature. In the automatic works of this period, Colquhoun finds sex not just in the organic world, not only in the human world of gender relationships, but in the universe itself. Sea Star (1943) is a cosmic vagina whilst Gorgon (1946) has as a central feature a gaping cavity, reminding us that, for Freud, the Gorgon was a symbol of castration. In A Visitation II(1945) Colquhoun bores deeply into the structure of the cosmos. The creation of matter and life itself are the dominant themes. The drawings and watercolours are more intimate in conception and execution. Virtually without exception they show evidence of reworking of the initial automatic impulse. Sometimes this involves no more than the application of an ink wash, as in the superautomatist drawing Depression (c.1947). Other works, such as composition, three growing forms(1941), show extensive hatching and cross-hatching with a fine-nibbed pen. The diversity of the automatic processes is notable. There are examples of fumage, entoptic graphomania: Torn Veil(1947); decalcomania: Foam Flower(c.1947) and parsemage: Sunspot (c.1945). The exhibition was also notable for the first appearance of the marine and inter-tidal imagery that was to become a recurring theme in her work.