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Sunday, October 27, 2013

Leonora Carrington

Amor che move il Sole et l'altre Stelle, 1946, Carrington, Lenora
Leonora Carrington Self-portrait, 1937
If you like Surrealism, and I do; you won't necessarily like Leonora Carrington, which I don't. Leonora is an acquired taste. As surrealists go, she's no Salvador Dali nor Frieda Kahlo. If I had to apply a single word to describe her work, the first one to come to mind would be "weird." I know, that's a very lame, layman adjective, and much too broad. In fact, a layman might use it to describe virtually all Surrealism, and be largely correct in such a rather dull analysis. A couple days ago I wrote on The Wizard of Oz and said it would be far down my list of favorite movies. The same would be true of Leonora Carrington on my list of favorite Surrealists. In a sense, the two go together. Oz is something of a surreal film, albeit candy-coated. Although there is little candy coating with Leonora, I have to wonder if she could not have been a technical advisor for the movie.
The Horses of Lord Candlestick, 1938, Leonora Carrington--the Ernst effect.
Leonora Carrington was born in 1917 into the family of a wealthy British textile manufacturer. Educated by governesses and tutors appropriate to an upper-class lass of her time, Leonora didn't behave like one. By the time she was a teenager she'd been kicked out of two private schools with her headstrong head set on becoming an artist. Even as late as the Post-WW I era young ladies of her social strata didn't seek careers--especially not careers as artists. Her father vehemently opposed it. Her mother didn't. By 1935 she was attending the Chelsea School of Art then transferred to the Ozenfant Academy in London. First exposed to Surrealism as early as the age of ten, even her mother discouraged this direction taken by her painting. Then, in 1937, Leonora met the Surrealist painter, Max Ernst at a party in London. 

Portrait of Max Ernst,
1938, Leonora Carrington
There was an immediate affinity between the two. Max Ernst divorced his wife. Leonora quit school and moved with him to the south of France where they lived happily ever after...until another war came along. Max, who was German, was arrested by French authorities as a "hostile alien," though he was held for just a few weeks. Then, when the Nazis came to France, they arrested him. They didn't like his "degenerate" art. With the help of Peggy Guggenheim, Ernst managed to escape the Gestapo and fled with her to the U.S. Out of gratitude, he married her.
Possible study for Portrait of Dr.
Morales, 1940, Leonora Carrington

As might be expected, despite her "spunky" character, all this was a bit much for a sheltered British girl of just twenty-two. She fled to Spain where she suffered a nervous breakdown and was committed to an asylum. There she was treated with powerful drugs now banned throughout most of today's civilized world. Nonetheless, after some three years, Carrington was released, and with the help of the Surrealist kingpin, Andre Breton, managed to write an autobiographical book titled Down Below. A study for a portrait of her doctor (above, right) dates from the same period. She later ran away from her supervising nurse and sought refuge in the Mexican Embassy in Lisbon, which would explain how she ended up in Mexico.
Daughter of the Minotaur, 1953, Leonora Carrington
The Monks, Leonora Carrington
It was in Mexico where Leonora Carrington was to spend the rest of her life. She married and had two son. And it was in Mexico where her long sought and long delayed career as an artist really began. Although most often thought of as a painter, Carrington's bronze sculptures now dot the urban landscape in cities all over the world. Today, following her death in 2011, she is primarily recognized as a Mexican artist, though there is little to suggest the country had much influence upon her art. Often her work has a kind of "ghostly" quality to it, steeped in mythology, fear, and nightmarish terror. Her colors are mostly muted, her figures convoluted, all of which does nothing in causing me to like her work, but does elevate my appraisal a little beyond "weird."


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