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Treading Blind, 1943 is unusual in Cecil Collins' oeuvre of print making, representing a regression to his work in the early thirties when he had not yet cast off the spell of Surrealism. This small print is unusual in the artist's oeuvre of print-making. It was produced as a bookplate although Cecil Collins was unaware of whether it was ever used.
When Cecil Collins left the Royal College of Art in 1931, he was confronted with an art world dominated by Roger Fry and Clive Bell. Their materialistic notions of `art for arts sake' symbolised for him a world at large which lacked soul and imagination. When the Surrealists burst in on the London art scene through obscure magazines and journals, with an explosion of Romantic energy, Cecil Collins immediately empathised with their disgust at modern technological civilisation.
Cecil Collins' work was immediately appreciated by the group and he was included in Herbert Read's first book on Surrealism and asked to exhibit his Virgin Images in the Magical Processes of Time, 1935 at the International Exhibition of 1936 at the New Burlington Galleries.
This seminal exhibition revealed to Collins the visionary course divergence. He understood that they were the last remnants of the Romantic movement, who kept the soul alive,(1) but to him their naïve political stance as Marxists, combined with their lack of earnestness came hand in hand with all that was wrong in the world. Surrealism was not `real' but sub-real and the world that they re-made was just a game. He retired from the art scene to re-think and read in solitude.
Perhaps it was the oppressive atmosphere of the early 1940's and the ruined buildings from the air raids of the World War, which inspired this return to Surrealism. The front page of every newspaper was, in a way a surrealist picture. Collins later exclaimed, the Surrealists prophesised and what they prophesised was greater than what they were.(2)
The blindfolded figure in red crosses a bleak and threatening wilderness. Heading towards the horizon yet he is oblivious to what lies in his path, whilst the nude figure is left exposed vulnerable. Treading Blind was produced as a bookplate although Cecil Collins was unaware of whether it was ever used.
(1)Cecil Collins, The Vision of the Fool, Grey Walls Press, 1947, page 108
(2)Ibid page 110