With the passing of the 94-year-old Leonora Carrington last week, we lost a truly great painter and writer, someone whose visionary approach to her art marked her as sui generis. One of the original surrealists, Carrington may have been better known for her intricate, haunting canvases--one of which recently sold for over $700,000--but she also wrote the compellingly strange (and classic) novel The Hearing Trumpet and many short stories, including the long, transformative, and riotously chaotic “The Stone Door.” At the time of her death she had just had a new art exhibit open in Mexico City. (Perhaps proving that surrealism is good for you, Carrington contemporary Dorothea Tanning is still working past the age of 100 and will soon release a new book of poetry titled Coming to That through Graywolf Press.)
There’s more than a dash of Carrington’s influence in the work of Angela Carter, Rikki Ducornet, and many other writers who have advanced the cause of surrealism by combining it with other elements. The filmmaker Jodorowsky is an admirer of Carrington’s art, and her friends included Picasso, Dali, and Remedios Varo. Relatively early on, Carrington ran away with Max Ernst. When Ernst was sent temporarily to a concentration camp, she suffered a nervous breakdown and spent time in a Spanish insane asylum. She would later write about this experience in her powerful account “Down Below,” collected in House of Fear. However, despite appreciations focusing on these colorful aspects, Carrington was mostly defined by her subsequent life in Mexico, where she was a productive and potent creative force for many decades.