Not Mexican Enough, Nor British Enough

Leonora Carrington in Mexico
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
The more I learn of Leonora Carrington, the more interested I become in her work. I'm also fascinated by how because she does not "fit" into a neat artistic category --- too feminist to be a surrealist, too Mexican to be a European painter, too British to be Mexican --- Carrington seems to have been left out of many arts narratives. If she has been claimed by any nation, it's Ireland. Carrington's mother was Irish and so was her nanny. Much has been made of the influence of the nanny's stories but I don't think Carrington would have agreed. She seems to have created her own universe of hybrid beasts, gender-mixed people, and shifting perspectives.

What I love about the video I posted yesterday is that we can hear Carrington in her own words as she gets annoyed with her distant relatives line of questioning. "The world is visual" Carrington insists. And yet she also wrote short stories, a novel, and a memoir. The Hearing Trumpet, categorized as "speculative fiction," is worth the read and different from anything else I've recently read -- not a great novel -- but a great read.

I shared some of her paintings with students in my "Women in the Arts" class today. A conversation on perspective, fantasy, and horses ensued. My students will also write ekphrastic poems based on her paintings. It's been a good day.

Detail from Samian

Here's a small window into her work -- much of what my students said in class today. These ideas are from The Art Story. 

Carrington shared the Surrealists' keen interest in the unconscious mind and dream imagery. To these ideas she added her own unique blend of cultural influences, including Celtic literature, Renaissance painting, Central American folk art, medieval alchemy, and Jungian psychology.

Carrington's art is populated by hybrid figures that are half-human and half-animal, or combinations of various fantastic beasts that range from fearsome to humorous. Through this signature imagery, she explored themes of transformation and identity in an ever-changing world.

Carrington's work touches on ideas of sexual identity yet avoids the frequent Surrealist stereotyping of women as objects of male desire. Instead, she drew on her life and friendships to represent women's self-perceptions, the bonds between women of all ages, and female figures within male-dominated environments and histories.


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