The Amazing Work Of Leonora Carrington

BY: EDGAR GONZALEZ

Have you been to the San Jose del Cabo Marina? If your answer is yes you probably have seen the beautiful sculptures and paintings adorning the walkways. These are all original pieces created by famed artist Leonora Carrington.

You have seen them right? You know, the ones with people with bird heads ... or birds with a human body? Whichever it is they are often in very grim panoramas or dreamy gardens seemingly doing secret magical rituals.

Leonora Carrington was an English artist and later nationalized Mexican. She is most famous for her paintings but her work also includes sculptures, engravings, set designs, costumes, tapestries and jewelry. She also did work in the form of theatre, novel and short stories. She thought of humans as the worst of animals, as we are always destroying nature.

Miss Carrington was a part of the surrealist movement of the 20th century and had a close relationship with some of the most important representatives of this artistic current, this included Dali, Tanguy, Picasso and Breton, not to mention her first husband Marx Ernst.

She was a feisty one too. In an interview, she said that one time Miró (also part of the gang) gave her some money and told her to go and buy some cigarettes, she gave him the money back and told him to bloody go get them himself.

Her work is heavily inspired by her life and her beliefs. She was familiar with Irish Mythology from having heard stories from her mother and her nanny in her childhood. She also had influence derived from her choice of books, namely Alice in Wonderland, The travels of Gulliver and the likes.

She was born in Clayton Green, England and from a young age she showed her rebellious behavior and artistic inclinations to the nuns and tutors in charge of her education, unsurprisingly this got her expelled from school. Her father, a very wealthy miller, wanted her to be presented as a debutante at the court of George V. She was having none of that. At 10 she saw her first surrealist painting in Paris and fell in love with it.

After some discrepancies with her father about her art career, and winning the discussions with her mother's support, she studied art in London.

In 1936 after seeing Max Ernst's work, she immediately felt attracted to him, even though she had not met him. Shortly after meeting him at a party they got together and returned to Paris in spite of him still being married.  She was 20-years-old and he was 47. After he separated from his wife they settled in Saint Martin d'Ardèche in southern France and started creating together.

But this would not last long because the tragedy and despair appeared in her life with the outbreak of the Second World War. Ernst was arrested twice, first by the French and later by the Germans. Had it not been for Peggy Guggenheim he would not have been able to escape to America. Unfortunately, when he did, he left Leonora behind. She did not take this well and shortly after she fled to Spain where she had a nervous breakdown that required hospitalization and heavy doses of drugs, not to mention the unpleasant therapies that were used at the time in psychiatric hospitals.

She would later write a book about this episode of her life.  After a while, she was released with a nurse taking care of her and went to Lisboa where she escaped from her parent's influence to the Mexican embassy and asked for asylum. Meanwhile, Ernst married Peggy Guggenheim.

Not long after Carrington married Renato Leduc, a Mexican writer and friend of Pablo Picasso, in order for her to get diplomat's immunity and be able to get out of the country.

So they did leave and relocated to New York. Once in the big apple, she presented her work at the Pierre Matisse Gallery in a show orchestrated by her most important collector, mentor and friend, the English arts patron Edward James. Not much later she was included in group shows at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century gallery and at the Museum of Modern Art. 

After her marriage was dissolved she came to Mexico and once again married, this time the lucky guy was Emeric Weisz, a Hungarian photographer who had been Robert Capa’ s darkroom manager in Paris. Wiesz was also an interesting character for he hid thousands of Capa's negatives from the Spanish Civil War that just recently reappeared and were considered lost.

In Mexico, Leonora was part of a group of artists exiled from Spain and in this group, she made friends with Remedios Varo, another notable Spanish surrealist artist and started a creative partnership with her.

Together they studied alchemy, the Kabbalah and the Popol Vuh, which is the sacred Mayan Bible. And with this inspiration, they gave us short glimpses of these hidden dimensions in their art.

She was heavily biased against male authority figures, and it shows in her work. 

In 1949 she read about the old matriarchal religions of Europe and became engaged, the art she did at that time shows powerful women performing magical rituals often using the kitchen as a laboratory.

Leonora Carrington was also a feminist and an active part of the Mexican women's liberation movement in the 1960s. Then the 1968 Tlateloloco massacre happened and affected her work and her life, for after that she almost exclusively did political work.

Carrington and her sons had to move from Mexico, the boys were students at the UNAM (the university that harbored the revolt ) and because of this, they were in danger. After this, she spent long periods in New York and Chicago. She did return to Mexico but only for short periods, mainly to prepare exhibitions. She died in 1994 in Mexico City at the age of 94.

So please take a moment from your hectic schedule to enjoy the reproductions in the marina and let yourself be transported to her world full of magical beings and events whose actions are the basis of the reality we dwell in. For I'm sure she was able to see that other reality and thankfully she described it for us. Go meet her, you will not regret it.