Monday, May 30, 2011

Leonora Carrington Is Dead at 94; Artist and Author

“Do you believe,” she went on, “that the past dies?”
“Yes,” said Margaret. “Yes, if the present cuts its throat.” Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington, a British-born Surrealist and onetime romantic partner of Max Ernst died on Wednesday in Mexico City, where she lived. She was 94.

Born in Lancashire in northern England to a textile magnate, Carrington spent her childhood in a Gothic-style Victorian mansion, but she soon rejected the strictures of a wealthy life governed by tutors and nannies.

"I hated the whole thing. I don't like to be oppressed," she said, describing how she was dragged to a debutantes' ball and presented to King George V in an agonizingly tight ostrich feather tiara that she threatened to rip off.

Against the wishes of her authoritarian father she studied art in Italy and yearned for a career as a painter.

Self-Portrait. 1936

Her family disowned her when, at age 19, she married Max Ernst, who was 26 years her senior. They moved to Paris where she became part of the circle of around the Surrealists.

There Carrington met other Surrealists like Salvador Dali, Luis Bunuel and Andre Breton, while studying figurative painting and gaining a reputation as a wild child.

The Juggler. 1954
While the surrealists celebrated the idea of woman as muse, the reality was far different and much more conflicted. Woman was celebrated as muse, and eternal child, the center of the creative impulse. But she was also a destructive demon of omnivorous sexuality, a destroyer of man as well as a blank canvas for male fantasies of violence and eroticism. The female body was rewritten as both subject and object, a complex creation controlled by the males in the movement and which left little room for the creative women drawn by surrealism. Eventually, Carrington rejected the Surrealists version of Freudian theory and turned to alchemy and magic for inspiration. 

Green Tea or La Dame Ovale, 1942

"The source of Carringtion's magical white horse lies not in Freud's use of the horse as a symbol of male power but in the Celtic legends that nourished her childhood...the horse is sacred to the ancient tribe of the Tuatha de Danaan...the hyena belongs to the fertile world of night; the horse becomes an image of rebirth into the light of day and the world beyond the looking glass. As symbolic intermediaries between the unconscious and the natural world, they replace male Surrealists' reliance on the image of woman as the mediating link between man and the "marvelous" and suggest the powerful role played by Nature as a source of creative power for the woman artist (Chadwick, p. 79)."

Crookery Hall
Her affair with Ernst fell apart during World War Two when the Nazis imprisoned Ernst for being Jewish and for creating subversive art. Carrington, devastated, fled to Spain where she had a mental breakdown and was placed in a brutal asylum. 
The Temple
Eventually she made it to Mexico City in 1942 where she she befriended Frida Kahlo and Remedios Varo and began painting in earnest. "I didn't have time to be anyone's muse... I was too busy rebelling against my family and learning to be an artist." --Leonora Carrington, 1983. In Mexico she later married Emericko Weisz. They had two sons: Gabriel Weisz, an intellectual and a poet, and Pablo Weisz, a surrealist artist and doctor.

The Temple

In her later years she lived in a rambling town house in the Roma neighborhood. While her work sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars across the world, she rarely left Mexico due to a fear of flying.

Carrington's ghoulish portrayal of weird mythical creatures that reflect the Gaelic legends her Irish nanny read to her, amazed critics and spawned exhibitions from Paris to Tokyo. She was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 2000

 La cuna  (The Cradle, 1945).   

She produced La cuna together with José Horna, painting her world of mythical images, full of mysticism, on Horna’s carving. It shows a parade of people and animals, with a prominent white horse. This recurring figure is a meaningful subject for a cradle, since, in Whitney Chadwick’s opinion, rather than a Freudian symbol of male power, it is associated with Celtic legends, where the ride across the night sky represents the trip from death to rebirth. 

"I suppose what I believe in is peaceful anarchy," she told Reuters in a 2007 interview. In the same interview, she says art today lacks a little of the wild creativity of the Surrealists as they cooked up ideas back in Les Deux Magots cafe in Paris that would revolutionize art.

"I don't think that the imagination is getting any stronger or any more vivid from what I've seen," she ponders. "Yes, imagination could be what's missing."

Site with links and images:

Tate: The Transcendent Image:

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