Leonora Carrington, a surrealist painter, lived from 1917-2011.
Her paintings were her personal symbolism of metamorphosis, magic, the unconscious mind and dream imagery. She painted fantastical, hybrid creatures, half human, half animal, perhaps referring back to Greek myth. Her work refers to sexual identity but not as the established Surrealists did by stereotyping women as objects of male desire. Instead, she drew on her life and friendships to represent women of all ages, putting female images within male dominated environments and situations. Rings a contemporary bell?
Why am I, as a writer, interested in her?
Because reading about her, examining her life history, throws up questions which also concern writers.
Briefly, the destructive events in her life were:
Expulsion from 2 schools; The arrest of her lover Max Ernst by the Germans at the start of WWII; His abandonment of her after he escaped and fled to Spain; A nervous breakdown possibly culminating from her anxiety and delusions; Her ‘hospitalisation’ in an asylum where she received ‘convulsive therapy’ and a powerful anxiolytic drug later discredited.
On her release, she sought refuge in Mexico, recovered, wrote a novel and developed her painting. She married and had 2 sons. She died from complications arising from pneumonia.
All of which makes us consider:
Is a solitary or a destructive life essential for creativity?
Can dreams feed into your work?
Is emotional deprivation essential?
Are you a rebellious and uncollaborative person?
Do you need the freedom to do what you want, write what you want, imagine the unimaginable, dream the impossble?
Are you afraid of not fitting in?
As an art student, the surreal painters fascinated me. Salvador Dali hypnotised me. After a painful episode in my teenage years, I dreamt ghastly images which I transferred to paintings of a surrealist nature. They were hung in a Brixton Gallery.
I still read fairy stories. Grimm, Hans Anderson, The Red Fairy Book, The Green, The Blue etc. Carrington’s paintings would make perfect illustrations for those gruesome tales such as Bluebeard.
It has taken me years to be brave enough to allow my writing to following the magic realism path.
Did I need the freedom to write how I wanted to? Yes. Was I afraid of not fitting in? Yes.
Did I need permission to explore my deepest fears or desires? Seemed I did.
Watching a performance of Kafka’s Metamorphosis at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith, I was entranced by this creature living on the ceiling. I believed.
I read Angela Carter but couldn’t ‘go there’ with her. A performance of Nights at the Circus, again at the Lyric Theatre, was pure magic. I was converted.
Did Leonora Carrington believe trauma was essential to the painter?
Since she didn’t explain her work, no one will ever know.
Is trauma essential to being a writer?
Once I’ve written my experiences on the page, I’m delivered.