"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, 1983But still, in the very first sentence of her New York Times obit, her relationship with Max Ernst is referenced. I have a feeling that might have rankled, though she admitted her debt to him, often. She was a wonderful painter who lived a long, productive and interesting life.
Like all artists (particularly of the female variety) she was remarkably self determined. Born into an upper class English family, running off to Paris to join the Surrealists wasn't precisely what her parents had in mind for her, to say the least. She ran off with the much older Ernst when she was about 20 and painted and wrote. There's a great anecdote about Jean Miro handing her some money and telling her to go get some cigarettes, which she essentially threw back in his face.
She first came to my attention because of her obsessions with the occult, alchemy and myth. She wrote as well as painted and I think I first encountered her work in an anthology of fantasy written by women. Like Ernst, she was a surrealist down to her very marrow. Her work is strange and autobiographical, oddly matter of fact in tone.
As for most everyone of her generation, the war was the defining event in her life. Ernst was imprisoned by the Nazis (but arrested first by the French Vichy government I think it's worth noting), and Leonora fled to Spain. She suffered a breakdown and her parents had her committed to a horrific asylum. I have no idea how apocryphal this is, but I read that she was rescued from the madhouse by her former Nanny, who arrived in a submarine. She eventually made her way to Mexico where she spent most of the remainder of her life. She and Ernst, both damaged by the war, never reconnected.
In addition to her painting and writing, she also designed for the theater. The picture above shows costumes she created for a show directed by Chilean director and filmmaker, Alejandro Jodorowsky, who she mentored. Her life was long and interesting and productive but, naturally, I suppose, most people want to hear about the short years with the Surrealists in Paris. It was a time of such outrageous creativity, one just longs to have been there. At least I do - in my time machine wish list, Paris between the wars ranks high.
Leonora Carrington died this past week at the age of 94. In an odd way, I wish she could come back, as she is a painter uniquely suited, I believe, to showing us what the afterlife looks like.