Leonora Carrington: Liverpool Tate’s retrospective

The Old Maids. Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia. by Leonora Carrington

A grandson, two daughters and an ancient mum, a recipe for disaster? Not a bit of it. A day trip to Liverpool and we were hunting down an illustrious relative, one of Britains best female artists, Leonora Carrington.  Post by Lil Butler

No, I didn’t show off in the queue, I didn’t proclaim in a loud voice that we were there not because we were aficiandos of surreal art but because we were related, I didn’t.   I mumbled about my gran being her auntie and the kind lady was sweet.  Hey presto! We were not only in for free, we had a curator to boot. Thank you Liverpool Tate

Thank God we are relatively well informed about the art world. I have another daughter who is a real bona fide artist who had researched her illustrious relation.  Leonora, we are cousins and I’m being presumptive about using her first name, but she is FANTASTIC.   A surreal artist right from the start, she blends the real and the absurd often tapering off into a pair of diminutive feet.  At the bottom of many paintings is an underworld teeming with demons, writhing figures and bursting through with sturdy trees.  In the top half, figures with haloes of wheat throw backs to Elizabeth 1st and her ruffs, pose in sumptuous gowns.   The paintings are busy, mysterious figures bustle about with surreal heads and tiny teetering feet.  Witches stir cooking pots, in female comfort and many are set in domestic settings. Unlike the male surrealists. The actual poses are familiar, surely that is like a Hieronymous Bosch or straight from the Italian School. There’s a hunting scene and woven in the background of two faceless boys in black. Leonora does mavellous theatrical scenes, statements adding gravitas to large productions, she designed hats, she wrote poetry, novels and is a deeply respected member of the Mexican art scene where she lived for years.  The Mayan culture fascinated her and was a hugely creative force for her.

When I was young she was barely mentioned.   After running away from a stifling wealthy background, she ended up in Paris as mistress to Max Ernst.   We were always told Peggy Guggenheim took a pot shot at her on the Gare de Nord.   Later, foiled by the war she hops skips to Spain, shacks up with a bullfighter, has a break down and finally makes her way to Mexico where she marries a Mexican.  It is here she painted her best works.  However her father’s death had her visiting home in Lancashire with two unruly sons, one of which bit the butler in the balls tut tut, that is taking the artistic way of life too far.  Prin as she was known in the family, went from success to success on the American continent, barely recognised back in England for many years.   Mexico was the gain. Leonora Carrington is good, very good, and we are delighted and lucky to be related to her.

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