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  • Writer's picturemarti mcginnis

The Queen of Mexican Surrealists: Lenora Carrington

“The visual world is totally different from the intellectual game.

The visual world has to do with what we see in space and it changes all the time.”

I am a huge fan of Leonora Carrington (6 April 1917 – 25 May 2011). I don't think I heard of her, though, before I moved to Mexico. But she is most definitely a kindred spirit. She loves animals and including them in her work as much as I do! But she was willing to depict the darker side of her subjects more than I usually do. I am in the midst of letting her approach influence mine. Hers is an interesting story.

She was an upperclass born British citizen who warmed her heart, built her talent and created a life in Mexico. She was an artist, surrealist painter, and novelist. She lived most of her adult life in the ever burgeoning, always amazing Mexico City and was one of the last surviving known participants in the Surrealist movement of the early to mid nineteen hundreds.

Surrealism enters the picture

Carrington had a deep interest in and connection to animals, myth, and symbolism that was not appreciated by her family, British peers or society at-large. She resonated early on with Surrealism after having read Herbert Read's book on the subject, Surrealism (1936), interestingly, a gift from her mother, but she received no other encouragement from her family to forge an artistic career of the kind she was drawn to. In fact it appears they saw her artistic vision as an offshoot of being mentally unwell. Know what? I don’t think that’s all that uncommon, lol. Certainly not in England (and much of the world) at that time.

Max Ernst

In 1936, Leonora saw the work of the German surrealist Max Ernst in London and was attracted to the Surrealist artist before she even met him. Then, in 1937, she did meet him at a party. The artists bonded immediately and returned together to Paris, where Ernst promptly separated from his then current wife. In 1938, leaving Paris, they settled in southern France. The new couple collaborated and supported each other's artistic development including creating sculptures of guardian animals.


With the outbreak of World War II Ernst, who was German, was arrested by the French authorities for being a "hostile alien”, he managed to escape and, leaving Carrington behind, fled to The United States with the help of Peggy Guggenheim, who was a sponsor of the arts.

Carrington was devastated and fled to Spain. Paralyzing anxiety and growing delusions culminated in a breakdown at the British Embassy in Madrid. Her parents intervened and had her hospitalized. She was given "convulsive therapy" and several newly experimental drugs, among them barbiturates. She regained her equanimity and managed to hang on to her artistic impulse despite these efforts to have it quelled.

After being released into the care of a nurse who took her to Lisbon, Carrington ran away once more and sought refuge in the Mexican Embassy. There she mat Renato Leduc, a Mexican Ambassador. Leduc was a friend of Pablo Picasso, and agreed to a marriage of mostly of convenience (though they did have two children together) with Carrington so that she would be accorded the immunity given to a diplomat's wife. She took to Mexico immediately and was especially captivated by the Mexican propensities for magic and magical realism. It segued perfectly with her own vision and attraction to the surreal

Edward James

It was here she met and became great friends with English nobleman, surrealist poet and bon vivant, Edward James. The two spent many glorious days together in the remote town of Xilitla where James was busily creating the world’s first surrealistic garden Laz Pozas. He became an important and consistent patron of Ms. Carrington’s art.

Her art

Carrington stated that: "I painted for myself...I never believed anyone would exhibit or buy my work." She was not interested in the writings of Sigmund Freud, as were other Surrealists in the movement. She instead focused on magical realism and alchemy and used autobiographical detail and symbolism as the subjects of her paintings.

Her Politics

Carrington was also a founding member of the Women's liberation movement in Mexico during the 1970s.


A piece of mine completed after seeing her retrospective in CDMX about 2 years ago.



To capture some of the energy of a few moments in the company of Ms. Carrington, my Creativity Club spent some time with the following exercise.

We sketched combo drawings of these 4 pairings. Maximum 5 minutes each. Then we redrew or reworked what we did in a final 10 - 15 minute version.

Sample from the exercise......


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