Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Leonora



'Leonora' is a novel based on the life of the artist and writer, Leonora Carrington, written by Elena Poniatowska, a friend of Carrington's for more than fifty years. It is, at the outset, a wonderful performance that tells the life of a 'cuckoo' born in a (very comfortable) nest not her own. A highly privileged and wealthy family acquire an only daughter (of four) who is highly imaginative, directly perceptive and gloriously unpredictable.

From the beginning art was a core preoccupation. She draws incessantly and drinks paintings down, absorbing masters and traditions. Likewise she is subject to visions, her imagination was concrete and before her, not fancifully 'within her head', and expressed in a language that is reminiscent of the youthful Blake, except that for Carrington the reference points were more the Irish folklore of her beloved nanny, and of the sidhe,  the people of the mounds, rather than the informing Biblical actors of Blake's formation.

Knowing the outlines of her life, and loving her art, you can see not only the origins of many of her motifs - of horse and hyena to name but two, both present above - but the gathering doom of her early life when the conventions of her family's expectations collided with the necessities of her calling.

She was a debutante, presented at court, and courted by a procession of eligible men bewitched both by her incredible beauty and the prospects of her inheritance and she disdained them all. What point the artifice of courtly and country lives of privilege when what you truly needed to do was paint. And needed, not wanted, the soul's character was shaped well beyond and before the womb.

I have arrived at the point when, reluctantly, her parents are about to let her study art, hoping that having acquired some competence, it will 'settle' her. Little do they know that it will make her and break her relationship with them, utterly. She is about to find too her first great love, the painter Max Ernst, and plunge into the vortex of the Surrealists and the wider Paris art world.

Breton, whom she admired, described her as the Surrealists' muse, an epithet that she dismissed, reminding them that it was still their women who cooked their food and emptied their ashtrays! She always declined the "Surrealist" tag, after all she was painting her reality. There was no 'Sur' about it!

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