Monday, July 26, 2010

Relatively Lost and Found: Leonora Carrington

"One has to be careful what one takes when one goes away forever."
~ Leonora Carrington

Joanna Moorhead, a contributor to the UK paper the Guardian, discovered over dinner one night that her cousin Leonora Carrington was the most famous living surrealist artist in Mexico. She set out to find her and film her story. The touching and enlightening result is here on the Guardian's website.

Although I love art and make a habit of seeking out women artists, Leonora Carrington is new to me. Despite the fact that one of her first major shows was in New York at the Pierre Matisse gallery in 1947, she is barely represented in New York's major museums — the Museum of Modern Art apparently has four of her pieces in its collection, but they don't seem to be on view; the Metropolitan Museum of Art has a similarly skimpy collection, and where it is, I cannot say.

Leonora Carrington was born in England to wealth and status, but didn't fit in. Her story is studded with heartbreak; interrupted by a mental breakdown and subsequent institutionalization and treatment with a now-banned drug; and propelled by a sense of adventure and a need to create. I find her powerful words and mysterious art tremendously moving.

When, in the video interview, Joanna Moorhead attempts to elicit a narrative explanation for her cousin's work, the artist fiercely and repeatedly resists intellectualizing; she insists her paintings are purely visual. Yet this painting, "Grandmother Moorehead's Aromatic Kitchen," takes on a certain poignance when you hear Joanna Moorhead describe the way her grandmother underestimated Leonora Carrington, dismissing her as an "artist's model."

Leonora Carrington is also the author of a novel, The Hearing Trumpet. Written in 2004, when the author was 84, it's the story of a 92-year-old woman who receives a hearing trumpet as a gift — and learns that her family wants to have her institutionalized.

I'll leave you with one more image, the painting she named "Bird Bath," and this link to an online mother lode of Leonora Carrington's work. Behold what we've been missing.

"We went down into the silent garden. Dawn is the time when nothing breathes, the hour of silence. Everything is transfixed, only the light moves."
~ Leonora Carrington

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