Tate Liverpool presents an extraordinary exhibition of the fantastical works by Leonora Carrington. The exhibition encourages reconsideration of the obscure and nefarious idiosyncrasies within the Lancashire born artist’s work. Certainly Leonora Carrington is predominantly associated with the Surrealist movement and, consequently, has been somewhat marginalized due to her association with Max Ernst in addition to a vibrant biography. This exhibition, however, presents her work in a leading role, emphasizing her position as ‘creator’ – one who translates an alternate and imaginary universe, rebelling against her bourgeois legacy and embracing the occult.
The exhibition celebrates Carrington’s natural tentative approach by emphasizing the absence of restriction between different disciplines and art mediums which include painting, drawing, sculpture, tapestries, short stories and poems in addition to designing for theatre and film. The meticulous detail and uncanny elongated, looming hybrids within her work allows one to delve into a world of abandoned imagination and step away from the humdrum of the everyday by exploring the potential of imagination within the rhythmic imageries. Equally of importance within the exhibition is Carrington’s writing that has been attentively incorporated through the display of selected quotes presented amongst the ethereal images, encouraging a whimsical journey through her frequently bewildering ideas.
The indeterminacy and abandonment of reality within the works exemplifies Carrington’s radical thinking. Her most familiar work, ‘The Giantess’ (The Guardian of the Egg), depicts an incandescent egg-like goddess presiding over land and sea. Carrington herself stated “The egg is the macrocosm and the microcosm, the dividing line between the Big and the Small which makes it impossible to see the whole. To possess a telescope without its other essential half – the microscope – seems to me a symbol of the darkest incomprehension. The task of the right eye is to peer into the telescope while the left eye peers into the microscope.’’ The vibrancy and range of work displayed reflects her long and eventful life, drawing upon aspects of her experience with Celtic mythology, alchemy, Mayan traditions, Buddhism and Tibetan philosophy. This extraordinary woman lived through decades of disorder and unrest exceling and challenging a patriarchal world and yet her modest plea to remain somewhat discreet, living in working in Mexico and her refusal to be constrained by conventional precincts has been a motivating impetus for many contemporary artists. Her patron, Edward James, said of Carrington in 1975: “she has never relinquished her love of experimentation, the result being that she has been able to diversify and explore a hundred or more techniques for the expression of her creative powers”.
Once Carrington left England she rarely revisited. Now, four years after her death, the myriad extraordinary works she made in Mexico including ‘The Magical World of the Mayas’ – a mural of anthropological significance, are now displayed close to her Lancastrian roots. Leonora Carrington’s exhibition as part of Tate Liverpool’s Surreal Landscapes season compels visitors to explore a disquieting web of transcendental visions, bold and enigmatically bewitching.
Leonora Carrington, Tate Liverpool
6 March – 31 May 2015
Georgina Wright is a writer and researcher based in Liverpool.
Photo: Pim Schalkwijk © Estate of Leonora Carrington / ARS, NY and DACS, London 2015.