A few weeks ago, the Diario de Yucatan ran an article questioning the source of the large statues being installed on our magnificent Paseo de Montejo. They had checked with the Macay (museum) and with the City, and no one seemed to know where they came from.
The next day, the riddle was solved (sort of), when Diario said that the installation had been done by ASUR, the corporation that runs support services at the airport along with some private citizens.
Although there is something about the sculptures that captures my fancy, I am surprised that they weren’t vetted by some City agency before being mounted, as some of the images are disturbing and controversial, unlike most of the art we see displayed on the Paseo. They are all by one artist, Leonora Carrington.
Leonora Carrington, born in 1917 in Lancaster, England, was a headstrong, creative child who never did conform to the role her Catholic parents wished for. They couldn’t handle her and sent her to boarding school and then to a convent. At the age of nine, in a convent school, she decided that she would become a saint and learn the art of levitation. She was expelled from a series of schools, but ended up going to a finishing school so she could make her debut in polite society.
Carrington unhappily made her debut in court and then went to Paris to study. At 19, she ran off with the surrealist painter Max Ernst, age 46. Ernst was arrested in France in 1940 as an undesirable alien. (He was German and the nazis were coming. France and Germany were at war.) Leonora fell apart. Ernst was bailed out by American philanthropist Peggy Guggenheim and he abandoned Leonora for Peggy. Carrington, devastated by this, was institutionalized for a year in Santander, Spain, until her ex-nanny, arriving by submarine, rescued her. She also spent some time in an insane asylum in Madrid, where she suffered through electroshock treatments, commonly given to women patients then (and showing a horrifying resurgence in current times).
Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think insanity is necessarily a bad thing, particularly for an artist. And no doubt today, many of us garden-variety neurotics would also be institutionalized if we didn’t have psychotropic drugs and if the costs of modern nut-houses weren’t so out of reach. Ms. Carrington’s hospitalizations just show that she was a delicately balanced person.
Carrington had been was always a difficult and rebellious child, constantly horrifying her rigid, wealthy parents. As, in their eyes, her life became increasingly evil, the relationship between them deteriorated further as the years went by.
Carrington was a beautiful young woman and a handsome, strong-looking older woman.
In 1941, to escape Europe, Carrington married Mexican diplomat Renato Leduc and they moved to Mexico the following year. She promptly divorced him and took up with a Hungarian photographer. In 1946, she married E. Chicki Weisz, who she was with for 61 years. Their son, Pablo, has written a biography of Carrington.
In Mexico, Carrington’s personality transformed and her art changed. Her mother attributed this to her lifelong witch-like tendencies and Carrington’s association with a Mexican occultist painter, Remedios Rama. She and Ms. Rama enhanced each other’s dark sides. I wonder whether her tendency to wander to become acquainted with The Dark One was an extension of her conflict with her deeply religious family.
Carrington is a font of creativity. Although best known as a painter, she is also a prolific author. I just ordered her last book, The Hearing Trumpet, which is supposed to be funny. I can’t wait.
She also composed large installations like the bronze pieces on the Paseo. She has been dubbed a “surrealist,” having been heavily influenced by Ernst, but the creations we are being treated to don’t fit in this category. Although they are indeed expressions of the consciousness juxtaposed to the unconscious, they are not, like other such art, happy rebellions against the dark conventions of the times.
Her paintings are also grim, but colorful, capricious and bordering on fun. We want to think that Carrington has a sly sense of humor about life.
The installations we are enjoying here in Merida suggest an artist with a personality heavily geared to the Dark Side. Even the graceful, feminine figures and animals have cloven hooves and satanic tails. One can’t help but feel empathy for a woman so consistently dominated by the Evil One.
In fact, her body of work is so varied, it is as if it were done by more than one person. Hmmmm…
Although Carrington is fairly well known in Mexico, her adopted country, she is an undiscovered secret elsewhere, except to those in the inside circles of surrealism. Renowned Mexican author Elena Poniatowski is about to publish a book on the life of this fascinating and complex woman.
Leonora Carrington lives in Mexico City. She is 96.
“In my work, I see the evil within the human spirit, and one way of denying evil of its power is to render it into an object: If you hold evil in a physical form, you can put it away. My sculptures are to be put out of sight once their evil is understood,” Leonora Carrington: The Mexican Years, 1943-1985 (University of New Mexico Press, 1998).
I was thinking about why a 96 year-old woman artist might have chosen to produce these huge, heavy pieces. Maybe she wanted to make sure she left a serious legacy – not insubstantial pieces of canvas and paper pages from books, but enormous bronze manifestations of her fears and purpose in life, which might have been the same thing. Some of them are almost unfinished looking in their lack of detail, like the three death figures. It’s as if she was anxious to get them done.
I’m wondering whether the pieces were commissioned by ASUR and other corporate interests, or whether she had them finished and they elected to display them.
Disclaimer: I know next to nothing about art and any opinions above are strictly mine. This is, after all, my blog. I gathered the information about the artist from various websites and the photos of Carrington from elcatalejo.com. I especially enjoyed the insightful bio from Mario Cutajar.