Leonora Carrington (Lancashire, England, 1917 – Mexico City, 2011) was one of the most prominent members of the surrealist movement. She produced paintings, sculptures, etchings, textiles and jewellery. She also wrote novels, plays and short stories. She was close to other surrealists such as Max Ernst, Remedios Varo, Leonor Fini, André Breton y Luis Buñuel.
Carrington produced works that blend autobiography and fiction, the magical and the everyday. Her oeuvre is inhabited by fantastic creatures, intermediary animals that refer us back to Celtic mythology, hermeticism, the Kabbalah and fantastic literature.
Born in 1917 in Lancashire, England, Carrington grew up hearing Celtic folk tales retold by her mother, her grandmother and her nanny.They told the young Leonora about the ancient mythic peoples of Ireland, whom they claimed to have met in the countryside roads and fields.
Her father, Harold Wilde Carrington, was a successful businessman who did not approve his daughter’s interests in fantasy and art. Leonora Carrington was presented as debutante at a luxurious ball at the Ritz Hotel in London and was also presented at the court of George V, after which she was expected to ‘marry well’.
However, things turned out differently...
In London, Carrington was introduced to the surrealist artist Max Ernst, and they soon became inseparable. In Paris, Carrington became acquainted with many of the surrealists, including André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Man Ray, Pablo Picasso and Luis Buñuel.
Later, Carrington and Ernst moved to St Martin-d'Ardèche in the south of France. The ramps and walls of their house were soon covered with paintings of fantastical creatures, guardians that were meant to protect them from the intrusion of Ernst’s wife and other surrealists. Ernst taught her some of his techniques, including frottage.
Wolrd War II brought this idyllic period to an abrupt end. Ernst was arrested and Leonora fled to Spain with her British friend Catherine Yarrow and her partner, Michel Lukacs.
After having a nervous breakdown, she was interned at a psychiatric hospital in Santander. Her family planned to have her transferred to a second institution in South Africa, but while she was traveling through Lisbon, she managed to escape her nurse. She immediately made her way to the Mexican Embassy, where she met Renato Leduc, a diplomat and poet who married her so she could run away from war-torn Europe and her father.
The couple spent a year in New York. Carrington was reunited with the surrealists, including Max Ernst, who had by then married Peggy Guggenheim. She arrived in Mexico in 1942, and she soon divorced Leduc, though they remained friends. Prompted by Pierre Mabille, Carrington wrote Down Below, an account of the terrifying experiences she had at the psychiatric hospital in Santander. In México, she met other exiled European artists, such as Wolfgang Paalen, Alice Rahon, José and Kati Horna, Benjamin Péret and Remedios Varo. She also befriended Mexican artists and writers, such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Carlos Fuentes, Carlos Monsiváis and Juan Rulfo.
Shortly after arriving, Carrington met and married Emeric ‘Chiki' Weisz, a Jewish Hungarian photographer. They had two sons, Pablo and Gabriel. Carrington spent the rest of her life in Mexico, with the exception of some extended periods in New York and Chicago. For the next seventy years, she produced painting, sculpture, etching, textile, jewellery, and writing. She produced her play Penélope with Alejandro Jodorowsky, created masks for the theatre with Octavio Paz and illustrations for books by Elena Poniatowska. In 1963, she painted El mundo mágico de los Mayas, a large scale painting for the Museo Nacional de Antropología e Historia in Mexico City.