Leonora Carrington: The Last Surviving Surrealist

Few female Surrealist painters were given the credit their talent warranted at the time, but Leonora Carrington was one whose art was recognised, and who also holds the honour of being one of the last surviving Surrealists.

Born in the UK in 1917, Carrington spent much of her artistic life abroad, with much of her work painted during her time in Mexico. It was the compelling art of German Dadaists and surrealist Max Ernst that first brought her into contact with Surrealism, and from 1936 onwards she was hooked. A year later, she met the German artist at a London party, before they became a couple just two years later, settling in southern France, a popular idyll with prominent artists of the time, including Picasso.

Due to events in the war, Ernst had to flee France for America, while Carrington remained alone in France. Devastated, she moved to Spain where she broke down before being placed in an asylum that saw her treated with a variety of drugs, including barbiturates. Upon her release, Carrington elaborated on her experience in a novel she penned, Down Below, while she also created art that depicted her psychotic experience.

These unorthodox pieces include Portrait of Dr. Morales and Map Of Down Below. The paintings – like most of Carrington’s paintings – are characterised by odd characters, reminiscent of the hybrids from a Bosch painting. People take the form of animals and plants – and everything in between. Her work is distinctive, but within Surrealism it is certainly an acquired taste. It is weird and unsettling, and indeed has more in common with a Hieronymus Bosch painting than a Dali.

But it wasn’t until she moved to Mexico in the 1960’s that Leonora Carrington’s work really came into its own. She is undoubtedly known more for her colourful personal life – including her stint in a Spanish asylum – but here in Mexico, she took on an interest in politics and wrote plays and short stories, showcasing the breadth of her talent. She designed sets and costumes, and in a sense acted as an inspiration for artists today who themselves tackle various platforms.

More than anything, Carrington was a great lover of experimentation. Her art works always tell a story, and they have the power to intrigue and captivate us. They are home to strange worlds and characters, and have the feel of a darkly twisted fairytale. They might lack the technical finesse of Dali, and they might owe too much to Bosch, but Leonora Carrington is an artist who deserves her exhibition at Tate UK this month. [image source]