September 22, 2013

"Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist"

"Neighborly Advice", 1947

What do you get when you mix Mexican folklore, Surrealism, Irish fairy tales and a working woman?  A fabulous exhibition that just opened in Dublin in the prestigious Irish Museum of Modern Art!  Thought the premise may seem far fetched, it is absolutely correct and the subject of this amazing retrospective is Leonora Carrington who, as it turns out, wore all of these hats and more in her colorful 94 year life.

If you're a little confused by all this, join the club.  I was familiar with Leonora Carrington as a Latin American artist with a highly imaginative style.  It turns out that, she was born in England in 1917 to a wealthy English father and his Irish bride.  Raised, in effect, by her Irish nanny, young Leonora was thoroughly indoctrinated in the magic and mystery of Celtic mythology.  The world of fairies and giants and magic circles was her reality and remained very influential throughout her life.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.  Ever a non-conformist, Leonora rejected the proper upper-class program and fled first for London and then to Paris with her married lover, Max Ernst who was by then a star in the Surrealist movement.  Life was fine for the pair as they painted side by side in the South of France until Max was interned by the Nazis in 1940.  Distraught, Leonora suffered a nervous breakdown and was herself incarcerated in a mental institution in Spain.  She managed to escape to the Mexican Embassy in Lisbon, and, through the kindness of the Ambassador who married her, moved across the ocean via New York to Mexico.

Not surprisingly this marriage of convenience did not last but she soon met and married Emericko Weisz, a Hungarian Jew, with whom she had two children.  She and Chiki lived and worked together in Mexico until his death in 2007.  She followed soon after in 2011.

"The Giantess" or "The Guardian of the Egg", c. 1947

But back to the exhibition now on view at the Irish Museum of Modern Art.  "Leonora Carrington: The Celtic Surrealist" explores the influences that inspired this remarkable woman who held her own in the Surrealist world both as an artist and a writer.  One quick look at her drawings, paintings and tapestries and you know there is something special going on here.  Something beyond the Surrealist exploration of the subconscious.  Themes of metamorphosis, transformation, anthropomorphic objects and the supernatural co-exist with ghostly beings, rocking horses, fairy creatures and giant eggs.  It's a wonderful, colorful salad of Anglo-Hispanic visions of legend and the occult that defy the imagination.

The Irish Museum of Modern Art has been housed in the former Royal Hospital at Kilmainham since 1991.  Built as a military hospital and retirement home, the complex is one of the finest examples of 17th century architecture extant and its re-invention as a temple to modern art is superb.  It is the perfect venue in which to re-introduce Leonora Carrington to her cultural heritage and a whole new audience of fans.

With congratulations and thanks to the curator Seán Kissane and his staff at IMMA for a wonderful exhibition and such a gracious welcome.

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