Surrealism has always interested me so I was ‘on the ferry’ quicker than you can say Leonora Carrington before I was over there. A local lass, the Tate’s new Spring show focuses in on Carrington’s lifetime journey of self-discovery. Her art was a way of finding herself. Of expressing her mental state. Her view of the world. Her fantasies. Nothing is rigid in her work. Her paintings have a fluidity of purpose and meaning beyond our understanding. I have tried to look back into her upbringing in Chorley to see where the incorporation of fairies, floating nymphs, magical beasts, sea serpents and flying dragons has come from, though I can’t seem to find one. It seems that through her ‘escape’ from a psychiatric hospital and family ties in England, she absconded to Mexico after her relationship with Max Ernst came to an end, which catapulted these visions to the fore. Perhaps she was reliving her brief time with the Surrealists by creating art she would deem worthy of their attention. Mexico was surely then the ideal country with its hot, fiery climate, passionate culture and fascination with the Underworld and the dead.
For the artists out there, her paintings are detailed and full of narrative. Her whimsical works keep you looking, staring into her abyss of alternate worlds only accessible through the power of dream. Much thought has been given to symbols, religious imagery and rebirth. There’s an air of eccentricity and unusualness to her art. Where animals and humans meet. Theatrical in their depiction. Primarily using oils, there are other works that use watercolour, tempera, ink, chalk and graphite.
The ‘coup-de-force’ is the magical mural she created in 1964, ‘The Magical World of the Mayas’, I think this one piece can encapsulate the entire culmination of works she has created in her artistic career. You could look no further than this to gain a strong sense of who she was as an artist and the spiritual themes running abound in them.
On the other side of this dual-exhibtion is a decade of works created by Turner Prize nominated artist Cathy Wilkes. Combining installations from previous shows including the Venice Biennale it offers up the chance to inspect the type of works this country selects as its choice of representation.
I was happily intrigued by the presence of these other alternate scenes and it reminded me a little of being transported back to another time. We’re drawn into six separate installations offering up an intriguing voyeuristic quality. Each one disconnected yet connected at the same time. As though there is a story waiting to be told but we have to discover it for ourselves.
Small hints or clues lie around in the form of bone china, towels and other objects alongside the quite melancholic but un-frightening fabric human figures. Each area framed by suspended material next to bespoke metal dividers which hang two sets of small oil paintings. The same on the floor with two hefty metal installations situated apart in opposite ends of the room. Yet hosting delicately placed items of significance. From any viewpoint it invokes a feeling of the familiar and unfamiliar in the same breath. A sense of unease descends as though there’s some silent conversations being had but you’re not privy to them. A nostalgic nod to both the past and present in all the assembled materials.
Personal themes of life, death and rebirth are important in both artist’s art. The imaginary and the disappearance of material things. Once I delved deeper into Wilkes I felt a little dissatisfied by Carrington’s paintings perhaps in their surface superficiality. But once again the Tate Liverpool has taken new strides in bringing together artists, past and present, to the attention of the British public. As diverse as both their styles are, there’s no doubting that the viewer has been given the choice to decide which version of an imagined reality they prefer.
|St Andrew—, Leonora Carrington|