Born in England to a wealthy family, artist Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) lived most of her life in Mexico and died aged 94 in Mexico City. She was a rebellious girl, expelled from two schools, discouraged from pursuing art by her parents, but finally allowed to attend art school in London.
She became involved in the Surrealist art movement, meeting Max Ernst and moving to France to live with him in 1937. When Ernst was interned as an enemy alien in 1939, Carrington left France for America via Madrid, where she had a spectacular mental breakdown and spent months in an asylum.
The experience of emotional suffering, painful medical treatment, and forced incarceration profoundly affected her, and despite the trauma of this period, it led Carrington to understand the alchemical potential of the body, an idea that would deeply inform her later work. When she learned that her family had arranged for her to stay in another mental institution in South Africa—presumably for the long term—Carrington hatched an escape plan, enlisting help from a Mexican diplomat she had met through Pablo Picasso. Carrington and the diplomat quickly married in Lisbon, and secured boat passage to Mexico.
In Europe, the rise of fascism meant restricted movement and ever-tighter borders, but Mexico flung its doors open to the world. An artistic and intellectual community flourished: European artists like André Breton, Remedios Varo (who became a great friend to Carrington), as well as revolutionaries like Leon Trotsky, encountered Mexican artists such as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo.
Carrington’s paintings explore transformation, with a menangerie of animals, humans, and hybrid creatures. She often painted a white horse or a hyena as a symbol of herself in these magical compositions. In her paintings, bodies are unstable, moving between genders, species, life, and death, but her paintings have a dreamy amorphous quality, they are not macabre or dark. They are like strange dreams or fantastic portals to another reality.