Collins drew Poem in the same year that he made two similar paintings, Composition 1933 (Dartington Hall Trust, reproduced Anderson, pl.13) and Music of the Worlds (reproduced Anderson, pl.95). William Anderson has explained these seemingly abstract compositions in terms of recent science. Advances in cell biology and in astrophysics, the latter transformed by Hubble’s discovery of the expansion of the universe in 1929, created a new vocabulary for scientists and artists alike. Anderson commented that, ‘Where many scientists at that time would have seen the awe-inspiring but mindless forces of the universe at work, he saw these galactic worlds arising out of music and alive with centres of awakening consciousness that burst into roundels of black rays signalling to one another’ (Anderson, p.36).
Collins’s busy array of multi-coloured circles and lines, many of them inter-linked, can be compared to the creations of his older contemporary, the Surrealist artist Joan Miró (1893-1983). Collins was prepared to be called a Surrealist, and his paintings had been exhibited at the 1936 International Surrealist Exhibition in London. The year before he had written: ‘My works are visual music of the Kingdoms of the imagination. There is in all human beings a secret, personal life – untouched, protected, won from communal life. It is this sensitive life which my art is created to feed and sustain: this real life deep in each person. Thus my art is truly functional’ (quoted in Anderson, p.39). Although Collins was later to detach himself from the Surrealist movement, Poem evokes a strange illusion of reality and fantasy which was comparable to the Surrealist dream world and, though its title, to the characteristic Surrealist linking of word and image.
William Anderson, Cecil Collins: The Quest for the Great Happiness, London 1988
Judith Collins, Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition, Tate Gallery, London 1989