The Art of Leonora Carrington

Beryl Gorbman

Art to terrify young children

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.

Coquettish female figure with cloven hooves

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.

Looking into the face of death

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.

The end

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 I especially enjoyed the insightful bio from Mario Cutajar.

About BG

Beryl Gorbman is a writer and private investigator who divides her time between Seattle WA and Merida Yucatan Mexico. She has published two works of fiction, 2012: Deadly Awakening, and Madrugada. They are both available on Amazon and other outlets. Also at Amate Books, and Casa Catherwood in Merida. You can read about them in various articles on this site.
This entry was posted in Merida Expat Life and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to The Art of Leonora Carrington

  1. BG says:

    I just had an insulting phone call from a reader who didn’t wish to write a public comment. She was angry that I saw evil in the work of Leonora Carrington and said that since I see evil everywhere, I need professional help.
    Well, I guess cloven feet and satan tails are only meant as artistic touches.
    I never said I didn’t like the work – I said that they show the dark side.

  2. Actually, in the top photo, the sculptures look like the sand people in the Star Wars movies.

  3. Jane G. says:

    Thanks for sharing the interesting story of Leonora Carrington. I never heard of her before her work appeared on the Paseo, now I need to know more about this interesting person.

  4. Joanna says:

    Beryl, I am shocked you don’t know the story of this important 20th / 21st century writer / painter /sculptress / poet and very vocal social activist who is still alive (although very debilitated) in Mexico. I will write a post about her soon.

  5. BG says:

    Ah, Joanna,
    I hope you will find it in your heart to forgive my cultural gaps, and my unforgivable ignorance about this disturbing artist. The reason I asked who she was, was that the Diario ran an article as her works were being delivered in white shrouds, because they couldn’t figure out who was staging the exhibit.

  6. Joanna says:

    Oh Beryl, I didn’t mean to offend you… I was really surprised because you know a lot about Mexican icons. I beg to differ with your opinion of Carrington’s art. While surrealism isn’t my preferred style, I think her pieces are quite remarkable. To each her own I guess. But do have a closer look… they might grow on you.

  7. BG says:

    Oh Joanna,
    You couldn’t possibly offend me.
    I know nothing about Mexican icons, or even American ones, except for Elvis Presley, Ferlyn Husky, and Etta James. And the Beatles. Oh wait, that’s wrong. Well, I know about clint Eastwood.

  8. The first sculpture you posted reminds me of this one in Prague. I once had the experience of waiting 30 minutes to get a photo of it at 5:00 in the morning because some drunken teenagers wouldn’t get off the damn thing.

  9. Also, the person who had a problem with you pointing out the evil in her work must be a raving lunatic. She should really read Carrington’s own words on the subject, which you yourself quoted. I don’t think there’s much ambiguity in the words “My sculptures are to be put out of sight once their evil is understood.”

  10. SW IN CA says:

    Her work does seem dark-

  11. Carrington’s statues very much seem like a hybrid of Henry Moore and Hieronymous Bosch.

    Which, when you think about, really looks a lot like the creepy-crawlies in the underworld depicted by Tim Burton in his film Beetlejuice.

    I’m not too sure, however, that I agree with Carrington that the world can be rid of human evil by rendering it into an object “so that you can put it away.”

    If only it were that simple.

  12. Dany Ream says:

    I’d say her work does exactly what it was intended to do…make the observor ask questions.I know after viewing it…I’m still scratching ny head,and wondering. While I like a lot of them…perhaps I am just too dense,or far too much of an artistic neophyte to understand them all. But then again Beryl,I’m with you on the cloven foot and tail thing,what exactly does that signify? I think Hugo said it paraphrase ,if only it were so simple to render human evil into a object you could put away!
    As for your caller,cowardly!!!! While not all may agree with you or your opinions,you at least have the courage to put your name to them.

  13. Carol says:

    In my efforts to be relevant to my 8 year old grandson, I am reading all the Harry Potter books, and, I have to admit, I am enjoying them. The sculptural trio look like the “dementors” in the books. I wonder if JK Rawling knew of these pieces.

  14. Alinde says:

    BG–Would you please add the page number for the citation of the quote: “My sculptures are to be put out of sight once their evil is understood.” So far, I cannot find it in my copy of the book.

  15. Corvus says:

    Remedios Varo, not Remedios Rama (there is no artist by this name).

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