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Leonora Carrington: Surrealism, Alchemy and Art Paperback – March 28, 2010
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'full of stunning colour reproductions of Carrington's visionary art, whose hybrid forms borrow from nature, culture and religion in order to take themselves beyond all three. A beautiful book.' --Ali Smith, The Sunday Telegraph
About the Author
Susan L. Aberth received her PhD in Art History from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York; her dissertation was on the art of Leonora Carrington. She is currently Assistant Professor of Art History at Bard College, New York, where she specializes in Latin American Art.
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Top Customer Reviews
I want to praise Susan Aberth and her publisher as well as Carrington, however: this book is everything I think an art book should be—and that too few of them are. The photographs of the art are clear, numerous, mostly full page, and all in vivid color (except for a few photographs of people that were not in color to begin with). Aberth’s text is also illuminating, describing Carrington’s life, bringing out her major themes (such as her blending of myths and symbols from disparate cultures, particularly Celtic [her family background] and Mexican [her adopted background], and her feminist view of alchemy as a form of cooking), and analyzing several paintings in detail. Her analysis almost always refers to features that can actually be seen in the reproductions—which is by no means always the case in art books, I’ve found. Her language is clear and easy to understand, not drowning in academic art-critic-ese. I have admired Carrington’s work for a long time, and I definitely felt that I understood it, and her, better after reading Aberth’s commentary.
In the foreword the author explains that the object of the book is two fold, to outline the artist's life and to provide an overview: "of the full scope of her work
in painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, and theatrical set and costume design" (p.9). If both of these objects would have been realized this would have been an extensive work and valuable work.
The biographical portion of the book attempts to give a biographical sketch of Carrington. The first chapter covers her life from her birth in 1917 in Lancashire, England, to a wealthy Catholic family, as a rebellious adolescent, to her insistence against her family's wishes to attend art school. The second chapter describes her relationship with Max Ernst, their life in France and her "induction" at the age of nineteen to the Surrealist movement. Thee third chapter tells of her war time experiences which included being separated from Ernst who was imprisoned as an enemy alien in France, being put in a Spanish Insane Asylum, breaking with her family and marrying a Mexican Diplomat so that she could get out of war torn Europe. The fourth chapter begins with her move to Mexico in 1943, her marriage to Emerico "Chiki" Weisz, about whom we learn next to nothing, and her emergence as a mature artist, which coincides with her friendship with fellow surrealist painter Remedios Varo. Aberth explains that Carrington and Varo were inseparable and saw each other almost daily for decades. They shared interests in bizarre cooking, the esoteric, alchemy, witchcraft, cats, and of course painting. A look at the painting of the two artists from this time shows a remarkable similarity in subject matter, style and colors, yet both remain distinct. It seems obvious that they deeply influenced one another in many areas. These four chapters are the most interesting of the book and read as a most improbable life story. It is also in the first four chapters were the problems of the book start to show. First of all, there is a heavy reliance on the books by Whitney Chadwick who has written several books on Carrington and on Janet Kaplan, the biographer of Remedios Varo. We are given less and less facts about Carrington's life and it becomes increasingly obvious that very little primary research, if any at all went into this book. This becomes most evident in the last chapter of the book that describes the last fifty years of Carrington's life in barely five pages. The readers can also ask themselves what happened in this period when she became recognized internationally as an artist. Did she remain married? Did she continue having mental problems? What did she do after Varo died? Why did she move to the US? Why did she return to Mexico? How did she deal with success? Was she re-united with her family?
The book reproduces about ninety of Carrington's works. Almost all of these are paintings. There are a few sculptures and one photograph of set design and costumes. Only a few paintings are described in any detail, so the readers have to fend for themselves to try decipher the symbolism and meaning. Most of the illustrations are of fairly high quality, but some are too small. The last photograph of Carrington dates from ca. 1960, so we have no idea what she looks like today.
The book fails to deliver on both of its "objects" to provide an overview of both life and work, and in that respect it is disappointing. Very little is said about Carrington's numerous published books, which could have been used as source material to a much better effect.
Still this book is valuable as it is the only book about Carrington and her art currently in print and it will hopefully attract many readers and new admirers. I can only hope that a Catalogue Raisonais similar to the Remdios Varo Catalogue published a few years ago will be forthcoming with more critical information about Carrington's work. A detailed biography would also be welcome. Despite all of my reservations, I still recommend the book highly, because of Carrington's bizarre life and interests and her exceptional original talent as an artist.
Review by Walter O. Koenig
The author wisely focuses on just a few key themes in Carrington's work -- Celtic & pagan myth, childhood Catholicism & Surrealist anti-Catholicism, alchemy & the occult, and the multicultural history of Mexico, her adopted home. From the first, she emerges as a fiercely independent woman who knows her own mind, and who pursues her individual vision wherever it may take her. Always open to new sources of knowledge & wisdom, she seems to have incorporated them into her own strong personality, and used them to deepen both her life & her work.
While we're given a basic biographical outline, what really matters here is the work itself, both visually & in print -- because Carrington is one of those rare artists equally adept at painting & sculpture on one hand, and writing on the other. The names of her friends, lovers, and peers is remarkable, encompassing much of the major creative tradition of the 20th Century. But in the end, she is undeniably at the center of that luminous labyrinth.
If you're not familiar with her work thus far, go immediately to your favorite search engine & discover her paintings. These are mysterious, visceral, glowing images out of dreams, both archetypal & yet deeply personal. If they touch a primal chord within you, then waste no time in getting a copy of this book. Most highly recommended!