Leonora Carrington or the Endless Mystery
This is the house of the Sphinx
With these words, set over the gate of Leonora’s house. That’s how Edward James elaborated on his friend’s mystical and magical art. On the other hand, Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes described her as an “ironic sorcery”. The aforementioned seek suitable descriptions for the work of an artist who filled her creative world with mythical creatures half-animal, half-human. These hybrid creatures inhabit a symbolic landscape that range from the individual to the cosmos. They emerge from a voracious reading of the world’s mythology, alchemy and Gnosticism.
For some visitors, an interest in those subjects may seem vain, a meaningless unnecessary fantasy. But it is not about escaping reality, but of a different way of understand it. Leonora explained it as follows: “Beauty/ugliness, reality/ fantasy, horror/ joy. I do not create but what we truly are. What we ourselves do not dare to assume because we are afraid. It is easier and not as painful to be conscious of the external world, the facade. Those concrete objects that make us dull, because they are supposed owners of reality.” Therefore, Carrington dismissed the premise that reality is the outer world, a facade. She proposes that reality involves human experience in all it possibilities and contradictions. Her work embeds this desire to access a more fulfilling reality. Her hybrid creatures embody parts of the world that materialize multiple meanings.
Both of the museums for Leonora Carrington -in San Luis Potosí and Xilitla- portray a portion of her creative universe. Among which are bronze sculptures, lithographies and personal objects that portray the many sources of her creative production. Each piece is a mix of different traditions. The most significant being Celtic mythology, of which Leonora felt as an inheritor benefiting from her Irish descent on her mother’s side. That is the source of her artistic language: spirals, Epona an the land of the Sidhe. However, her work derived from endless traditions: Egyptian, Phoenician, Mayan, Greek mythology, psychoanalysis, Gnosticism, alchemy, English literature and Kabbalah, to mention a few. The symbolism of them all feeds her work.
Carrington’s art can be understood as a constant search for self-knowledge —her background—. She uses her past experiences as gates to access new worldview. It seems to me that by bringing them together, she wanted to act as a bridge builder amongst different ways of thinking. She once stated: “Everything is connected with something else (...) and what interests me is connecting the dots.” The Greeks used the word sympatheia to refer to this functional interdependence in all things, the deep balance in the universe. Among the Stoics this word has a cosmic connotation, meaning that a change anywhere in the world could have an impact somewhere else regardless of the distance. Thus, reestablishing the equilibrium of the whole. This holistic worldview is foundational to understanding Carrington’s artwork.
Her reaction of utilitarianism was a result of her adopting Jung’s psychoanalysis, world mythology and occult traditions (as Octavio Paz said, a worldview in which “we all are for...”). She believed utilitarianism disrupts our relationship to the planet and the veins that inhabitant it. The importance of Carrington’s worldview is made evident in our modern day life when we see the effect industrial utilitarianism has had on the planet.
Carrington was a rebel. She faced the moralistic view of her Victorian family, from the surrealists machismo that saw her as a muse and not as an artist, and her confinement in a psychiatric ward. Every time, she managed to free herself. However, this rebellion was not exhausted in a mere individualistic worldview.
Carrington proposed that individuality is inseparable from the political. She concurred with Andre Breton’s surreal worldview which started that the freedom of the individual is a necessary condition for social emancipation; that a free society must be a group of free individuals. Thus, we understand that the heritage of an artist must not be seen as a serie of objects, i.e., bronze, paper and canvas, but as a body of ideas that let us transform our reality and if we choose so, our community at large.
García Acosta, Antonio, “Leonora Carrington or the Endless Mystery”,
Nature and surrealism, Leonora Carrington Museum Xilitla,
Secretaría de Cultura: San Luis Potosí, 2020. pp. 117-118