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Book Review: Visions of the Occult - Art and Magic

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A new book, Visions of the Occult – The Untold Story of Art and Magic, covers the occult collection of art, letters, objects and ephemera held by London’s Tate galleries.  

Author Victoria Jenkins, an archivist at the Tate, is also an artist in her own right and very knowledgeable about magical subjects. I met her recently at the launch event for the College of Psychic Studies art exhibition where we chatted about our shared love of the work of Ithell Colquhoun
Visions of the Occult is genuinely groundbreaking, offering the first major survey of the occult collection of artworks, letters, objects and ephemera in the Tate Archive. Revealing more than 150 esoteric and mystical pieces, some never before on public view, it offers a new way of looking at artists in the collection and the history and practice of the occult.

As well as being impeccably researched, it’s a beautiful book with lots of colour illustrations. But it’s more than that. The description of it says:

“This…magical volume acts a potent talisman connecting the two worlds of Tate – the seen public collection and the unseen secrets lurking in the archive. The pages of this book explore the hidden artworks and ephemera left behind by artists, and shed new light on our understanding of the art historical canon.” 

Chapters offer insights into portrayals of witchcraft, alchemy, divination, secret orders, magic stones and the weirdness of the New Age and more. There’s even a section on tarot as inspired by works of art in the collection. As well as Ithell Colquhoun, artists covered include Paul Nash, Barbara Hepworth, Cecil Collins, John William Waterhouse, Alan Davie, Joe Tilson, Henry Moore, Eileen Agar, William Blake, Leonora Carrington and Pamela Colman Smith. 

I’ve learnt a huge amount from reading this book and know I’ll be using it as reference material in future. In fact one of the objects it discusses has already inspired me with ideas for the novel I’m writing for NaNoWriMo this month. I’d recommend Visions of the Occult to anyone interested in the relationships between art and magic, many aspects of which have never been told before. 

You can view Visions of the Occult on Amazon and also order it from the Tate shop online.

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