§ Leonora Carrington, painter, novelist and short story writer. Women like this artist, recently deceased at 94, and men should, although they might find her fantasies too close to the nursery, too much of a Freudian coffin.

A Mexico City recluse, the 'bad debutante' was born in England (affluent northern industrial family), did the Left Bank, fled the Nazis, was confined for a period to a Spanish asylum (love sickness and/or war fear), found refuge in Mexico. It was through art school in Paris and London that she gravitated to surrealism. Ran off with the cradle-robbing Max Ernst who was, perhaps, her biggest technical influence. You might think she's another forgotten treasure, but in fact she was written about quite a bit, and her own works were published internationally. Yet she remains relatively unknown except to a few travellers and female academics.

Like Remedios Varo, her close friend, she found refuge from WW II in Mexico City, came under the muralist spell of indigenous Indian mysticism which blended easily with her atavistic primitivism. And like Remedios Varo the uterine quality of her fantastic imagery is rendered with a soft feminine touch, highly detailed draughting, and a Bosch-like dark humour. Sometimes cluttered, sometimes simple, her compositions are like elegant autopsies... could be Alice (in Wonderland) or an alien from an unknown planet... or a bagpiper levitating a fish. Birds morph as humans, humans morph as animals, and the totems of ancient civilizations invade the dreamscapes.

Lots of women figures -- always in "dress-up' -- robed and veiled like priestesses guarding the holy egg of life, conducting witchcraft ceremonies. Birds, horses... birds, dogs, cats... LC is the Beatrix Potter of the spirit world. Her mysticism is a paranoid mysticism, as if flesh dies when exposed to light. Fascinating.

Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington is published by the Irish Museum of Modern Art, a way of claiming genetic provenance by way of LC's mother and grandmother who were Irish from the River Boyne hinterland. Beautiful book. Gold hardback with debossed title, oval graphics window, heavy paper in the 12 by 8 format, a bargain for collectors at the current price. Dozens of color plates, photos, childhood drawing facsimiles, and essays (of course) slanted towards sourcing the Celtic in LC's work. Most of these essays have the academic slowhand touch, yet are closely researched and argued. Contributors include Alyce Mahon, Sean Kassine, Teresa Arcq, Giulia Ingarao, Dawn Ades, and there's an interview with LC by Hans-Ulrich Obrist. There's also a mildly bitchy opinion piece by one of her sons, Gabriel Weisz Carrington (people are always hijacking my mother's story for their own ends, etc), but no doubt he's had to endure a lot of dumb questions/intrusions.

Only one criticism: while the book design is great to look at, the vertical scaling leaves it with a short left-right throw, which in turn makes reading the essays a bit awkward. While it's not clear in the credits who edited or designed this book (Pony Ltd), it appears the Irish retrospective was curated by Sean Kassine, and this symposium followed. No matter: Leonora Carrington's time has come, and you need this book for your collection.

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