Leonora Carrington

Leonora Carrington, adiós

Leonora Carrington Self-Portrait 1938
Leonora Carrington, Self Portrait, 1938.

Yesterday I read the sad news that Leonora Carrington, artist, author and brilliant mischief-maker passed on into immortality on the 25th of May. She was 94 years old, so this wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it still came as a terrible shock. I cannot even begin to tell you what impact this woman’s work had on me, or how much her story inspired me, or what lessons she taught me by example. Every artist is a muse and every artist has a muse, and she was one of mine.

British by birth, Mexican by heart, she left behind her Lancastrian roots and finally settled in Mexico City, where she painted and sculpted until the very end. Her work is suffused with mythic and alchemical symbolism — she was a student of the occult, a member of the surrealist movement and a passionate feminist. Motifs appear and reappear in her paintings like ghosts drifting in and out of time. They recur in her fiction, taking odd shapes and making odd sounds, creating a strange dissonance in the reader’s mind.

The Oval LadyMy favorite collection of her written works is The Oval Lady, which includes a story of the same name. I also recommend The Hearing Trumpet, which is a good introduction to her fiction, easing one into the more unusual short stories found in The Oval Lady, The Seventh Horse and Other Tales and more. Horses, the white horse in particular, feature prominently in her work as one of the mythic/alchemical symbols from which she draws her own inspiration. There’s a wonderful essay on her fiction called Not Just an Ordinary Horse, by Kurt Cline, which begins with the following abstract:

The shamanic voyage is taken up in Carrington’s fiction through frequent use of the motif of the animal helper spirit, usually in the form of horse. I trace Carrington’s adventures with her equine spirit guide in the stories “The House of Fear,” “Uncle Sam Carrington,” “The Seventh Horse” and “The Oval Lady.” I then demonstrate the theme of the shamanic descent in Carrington’s short story “White Rabbits” and her novel, “The Hearing Trumpet”. I then argue that Carrington recounts a real life shamanic initiation experience in her autobiographical “Down Below”, which posits the shaman as healer of both the individual and the culture.

Leonora’s paintings constitute a visceral journey through a troubled but determined psyche, but if the white horse truly does indicate a healing power, then I believe it worked both on and through her. She did live through some troubled years, to put it lightly, but it is evident that she found happiness in her heart-home, Mexico City.

The Memory Tower 1995
The Memory Tower by Leonora Carrington, 1995

Leonora moves now into my own memory tower. She was a path-forger and even though she is gone, her footsteps remain, leading up and into the stars. She lived a long and incredible life, and I will be forever grateful that she followed her heart and shared her great vision with us.



[Header photo credit: Ruth Maclean, 2013]


Leave a Comment