Good to see Leonora Carrington commemorated in today's Google doodle:
It would have been her 98th birthday today. She died in Mexico City in 2011, aged 94. Both the Guardian and the Independent have articles in celebration of the occasion. If the Guardian piece is a little on the short side, that's because they had a lengthier piece on her by Charlotte Higgins only a few months ago. She's also the subject of an exhibition at Tate Liverpool. Her time, at last, has come.
She may well be Britain's finest exponent of surrealism. Many artists jumped on the surrealist bandwagon because at the time - the Twenties and Thirties - it was the most exciting, most revolutionary art movement around. More often than not, though, the opportunism was fairly clear, and the results were less than wonderful. With Carrington it was different. She was a natural surrealist. Not so much a surrealist in the Andre Breton style, with his self-important manifestos and proclamations; she had no time for Freud or Marx. She was more a surrealist in the English tradition going back to Lewis Carroll and beyond: also a feminist in the formidably male French surrealist circles where women were supposed to be muses rather than artists.
She was living with Max Ernst at the outbreak of World War Two:
Ernst was in a doubly insecure position as an enemy alien (as far as the French were concerned) and a painter of “degenerate art” (as far as the Germans were concerned). He was arrested; Carrington’s mental state deteriorated. Friends arrived and urged her to come with them across the Spanish border; at length she was put in an asylum and given a course of Cardiazol, a drug designed to induce convulsions similar to those resulting from electric shock therapy. Her memoir of these events is a pretty horrifying read; it is titled Down Below as if the experience had involved a spiritual descent to the underworld; indeed her paintings often describe places or states that hover between the ordinary, everyday world and another zone of dreams or death.
Her account of her escape from this situation is also remarkable. Her parents planned to send her to another institution, this time in South Africa, and she was accompanied to Lisbon so that she might take a ship. She told her chaperone she needed to go to the lavatory, nipped into a cafe, ran out of the other exit and into a cab which she had take her to the Mexican embassy, where she knew a diplomat, Renato Leduc. He did indeed come to her aid – by marrying her and taking her with him to Mexico (via New York, where she once served André Breton a meal of hare stuffed with oysters). She never saw her father again.
I haven't read Down Below, but The Hearing Trumpet is a joy.