Paul De Angelis - What worries you today?
LeonoraCarrington - Above all, the idea of death, the fact that I'm old and our attitude to death is totally erroneous.
In reality we know very little about death, but if we know that a series of worlds exist that appear to be transforming.
Paul- Worlds more there than life?
Leonora- Yes, we distinguish life from death, but in my opinion things are not how they are explained to us. I believe that they are different for each person, like dreams. I think that to reach an understanding about death first we must understand the distinct places that exist within us, and dreams are one of these places; this is to say that The Paul and the Leonora of a dream are in a way a different Paul and Leonora. It almost appears to be like worlds in reverse. It seems that we have a body which unfolds activities, meanwhile our physical body remains inactive when we are asleep; with our bodies we do things, we go to places, drive cars, ride bikes. . .
Paul- Do you believe in reincarnation? You have an interest in Tibetan Buddhism which believes in reincarnation.
Leonora- Yes, I find it interesting, but I couldn't say at what point the conscious personality outlives death. We only need to sleep to convert ourselves into different personalities. That is why I think that talking about reflexive consciousness, perception, or the conscious- that in saying it, we better express the idea. In our dreams we conserve a certain degree of consciousness, but we are not conscious of what we call out, or what things can be called, the physical three dimensional world. Right now you could visualize for example, a rabbit, but obviously it would not be a three dimensional rabbit. Like I said, perhaps reincarnation exists, but I think we could reincarnate in different entities. We could for example reincarnate into an ant farm, full of ants. Do you understand? The Tibetans say that the best thing is to be human. In my opinion, as humans, our attitude makes the rest animals. We being human animals is very mistaken. We have adopted a totally false attitude in believing we are superior to the other animals, that we have rights over them. In my opinion, the animal world is universal and will continue unexplored. We have no idea about the capacity, consciousness or the intelligence which animals possess. Take for example the snout of a dog, in it we will find ample language, and the capacity to identify thousands of things solely by its sense of smell.
Paul- Do animals have a spirit?
Leonora- Of course, everything, the trees, the rocks, everything has life. The earth is alive and everything has consciousness/awareness. I am sure that moreover, many Gods exist. There probably exist Gods of the informatica. For example, now instead of insulting someone you insult the one that ordained them. The other day I went to the bank, and there was a man who was furious with one of the employees for not doing as he asked for. But he didn't call him an idiot, he said that his boss was an idiot. He was probably imposing the new style of insulting someone.
Leonora- I was born in North England in South Lancaster. My Grandfather invented a loom which was to him more effective than the rest. He dedicated himself to inventing, he later married Miss Wild de Derbyshire, who was in a better position than him.
Paul- But the name Carrington is somehow connected to the aristocracy. Is that not so?
Leonora- No not our name. My Mother was prone to fantasize about her name. In the same manner she would say that we were related to the King Malcolm who previously lived in Etelredo el Rojo which means that they probably had to rectify it until the next century. After my mother died I had an interesting conversation with my Uncle Gerald, now dead, who told me that the Moorehead (Mother's family name) were probably gypsies, handy men. My Grandfather's surname was fallible because of what my mother invented. She believed that she should have been called "Usher- Summers" that would have been the real aristocratic name; what this signifies is that it did not really interest her to introduce herself as "Tinker" in the North of England.
Paul- Were you the only daughter?
Leonora- Yes and I have three brothers. The eldest Pat, then me, then Gerald and Arthur. My parents first lived in a house called Westwood and then in another called Crooksey. They would often change houses.
Paul- When did you start to paint?
Leonora- I started like most children. Immediately, as soon as I could scribble on the walls. Everyone has scribbled. My Mother painted murals, or something resembling murals, which she would raffle. They looked like Joan Miro's work. I drew horses, not many did, but I dedicated myself to them. I loved it.
Paul- How was your education?
Leonora- I would have been eight or nine when I was sent to college, The Holy Sepulchure, which was a convent in Chelmsford, Essex, you know, where Oscar Wilde was gaoled. I was there for a year. They told me I was not willing to participate in the games, nor in the school work. I was advised to leave. They said my vocation might lie in being a Saint. I've probably exaggerated a little.
Paul- How is that?
Leonora- What I was most interested in was the idea of Cheviter. I was sent to the convent of St. Mary in Ascot. I hated it. I was only there a year. Once again they said I was not participating so my family had me at home for a while. My Mother would scold me, in her quest to find a manner in which to civilize her daughter. So I was sent to Florence, when I was thirteen or fourteen, to the College of Miss Penrose in the Piazza Donatello. Later I had appendicitis and I was operated on in Berna. I was fourteen or fifteen when I returned to England. I was sent to Paris where I was expelled from a strict finishing school. I only lasted there for a few months and, once again I was sent home. My Father decided I was to be sent to very strict place, there was an American woman in Paris who had such a place, a Miss Simpson. She had a spare room with a patio which looked out on to a church and cemetery. I hated it, and one night I escaped.
Paul- For how long?
Leonora- For nearly a month.
Paul- Your stay at the colleges were getting shorter.
Leonora- Yes, I had lots of experiences. I went to the house of a family whom, I did not know, only heard about. They had a vague idea of who I was, I'm not sure how they knew about me, some friend of the family I suppose. The Simons. Mr. Simon was a professor of Art.
I went to their house and was instantly accepted. I did not tell them I was unhappy in the place where I had been sent. Only God knows why they allowed me to stay in their home. I continued painting and drawing. I remained with them until they presented me before the court. The last court of George V, where I was to be presented for marriage. Dressing up for a big party at Buckingham Palace. Oh, what it was like to be a woman in those times- not allowed to enter the paddock where they trained the horses.
So I took a book to read, what else could I do? The book was Eyeless in Gaza by Huxley. I was sent back to North England where I announced to my family that I was going to be an artist. After doing all those absurd things the moment arrived when I was going to do what I wanted. My Father said I could remain at home where I would have the space I wanted to paint. With some help along the way I went to Chelsea School of Art. I attended the classes of Amedee Ozenfant in a converted garage in West Kensington. Ozenfant worked me like a mule, he was a purist. He did the following: you had to understand the chemistry of everything you used, including the paper and the pencils. He gave us an apple, a piece of paper and a 9H pencil. With this we had to do a linear sketch. He said he did not want to see the shell of an apple, it was an apple which had to be done with one single outline. I spent six months drawing the same apple which finally became a kind of mummy. He was a good professor with a clinical eye and he never left you disheartened.
Paul- Were there many students?
Leonora- Among them was Ursula Goldfinger. Erno Goldfinger was a Hungarian revolutionary architect but Ursula was from the Blackwell family, of 'Cross and Blackwell'- the marmalade. She was charming, and it was she who invited me to a dinner party where I met Max Ernst. It was just the three of us. Max had an exhibition in a London gallery. This occurred after the grand Surrealist exhibition. I already knew who Max was, my Mother gave me a book on Surrealism by Herbert Read for Christmas. It was Max's work in the book Deux enfants menaces par un rossignol, which made a great impression on me. Ursula knew that Max preferred the company of a young art student to that of an old intellectual, so he could tell foolish stories and enjoy himself.
Paul- You had already begun your relationship?
Leonora- Immediately. I remember we spent a day in the country where he taught me frottage with leaves. We were invited to Cornwall where we spent a marvellous two weeks. Meanwhile Hitler was converting threats, I was beginning to be informed as to who Hitler really was. Really, Hitler was no boy scout!
(Winter in London again) I received an insulting letter from my supposed guardian, Serge Chermayeff, who called me a whore. I stayed a week in his house in Sussex where he told me that I was a "cheap slut". But I told him "cheap slut" or not, that's the way things are, what do you want me to do Serge? I was seventeen or eighteen when I transferred to Paris. I was with the Surrealists. They would meet in a cafe in St. Germain-des-Pres. Hitler was the main topic.
Paul- They put Max in a concentration camp when war was declared between France and Germany. As a German citizen, Max, was held by the French.
Leonora- They released him, and then once again took him into custody along with all the German citizens in the Marseilles area. I was allowed to see him once, but only for two minutes. The Germans seemed to be getting closer so Michel Lukacs, his girlfriend Catherine and I decided to escape. The only way out was through the South. We went to Perpnian and then to Andorra where my Father shipped us to a mysterious Jesuit who got us through to Spain. My Father wanted me back in England, but I did not go because I wanted to free Max. I thought he was still in the French concentration camp, it terrified me that the Germans were approaching because it would have meant the end.
Paul- For Max?
Leonora- And also for me, probably. Anyway, Catherine and I continued with the Jesuit who took us to Seo de Urgel in the city Cataluna, from there we went by car to Barcelona. We intended to enter Portugal- but I wrote about this in Down Below. I met up with Renato Leduc (a friend from Paris) in Madrid. He was a friend of Picasso's.
Paul- After a few months of being in Santader, when did you have your nervous breakdown?
Leonora-After leaving the asylum, I was always accompanied by a nurse. I told her I was going to the toilet and left her sitting in a coffee shop. I caught a taxi to the Mexican Embassy. Renato and I were married before embarking to America.
Paul- You liked Renato, but you were not in love with him?
Leonora- Yes, more or less.
Paul- Were you still worried about Max?
Leonora- No, he was in Portugal with Peggy Guggenheim so there was no need to worry.
Paul- Did you feel confused?
Leonora- Yes, the situation was so ambiguous, everything was like an historical comedy, so absurd like a soap opera.
Paul- Did you end the marriage?
Leonora- It was the only way out of there.
Paul- So if Max could leave, why was he with Peggy, an American?
Leonora- Who could blame them for that?
Paul- Did you go to New York by ship?
Leonora- Renato was working for the Mexican Embassy. In Mexico I was in close contact with the Surrealists. I saw a lot of Breton, Bunuel and Masson was also there. The whole world- Chagall, Ozenfant (who I saw fleetingly) and Duchamp, who was at that time living with Max and Peggy. They had a grand mansion by the river in Sutton Place, where all the diplomats lived. Everyone gathered at Peggy's, she was very generous, always having parties. But Renato was fed up and he went to New York. He was a poet, but really it was Mexican politics that interested him.
Paul- Did you write or paint in those times?
Leonora- I did both all the time. Renato and I were together three years and then I met Chiqui, and Renato and I were separated. Renato was a very decent person, but we had different interests, different lives. Chiqui Weisz was a friend of Remedios Varo and Benjamin Peret. They came from France with Breton. Remedios had been in Paris and Marseilles. He was half Andalusian and half Catalan. In fact Chiqui and I lived together with Remedios and Benjamin when I abandoned Renato. Renato took it very well.
Paul- Who else, amongst the Surrealists, was in Mexico?
Leonora- There was Pierre Mabille, who encouraged me to write Down Below. There was also Remedios, Peret, Octavio Paz, Diego Rivera, and for a little while, Frida Kahlo. Diego and I would every now and then see Orozco. Diego and Frida got remarried and I helped with the wedding. It was a huge party. I had a long conversation with Diego who told me a lot of gossip. He was very animated, he was a lot of fun, full of life, exuberant. But Frida was going through a rough patch, she was becoming seriously ill so I barely saw her.
Paul- You were in Mexico at a time when great anthropological discoveries were being realised.
Leonora- Yes, I believe it was Bernal who began his excavations- Ignacio Bernal, the director of the Institute of Anthropology, who had one of my paintings. He was a pleasant man with a good relationship with his whole family. We visited a lot of ruins. The Mexican culture made a totally unexpected impression on me, with all its horror. There was a Goddess of Death, Cautlicue. Huitzilopochtli- God of War, a part of a series of demonic creatures, similar to those you see on children's television programs these days. Those things always scared me. In a spiritual way it reminded me of an aspect of H. P. Lovecraft. There was always a lot of blood and something pressing and threatening. I always feel depressed by some aspects. There had been so many human sacrifices, if we compare them to the wars that we have suffered, we will see that they outnumbered the amount of deaths in the last world war. During my time in Mexico I was dreadfully frightened, it was a physical way of killing which was horrible. There was also a myth about Quetzalcoatli. Peret was very involved in this theme. I believe he negotiated to acquire several pre-Colombian pieces, which in those days were easy to find. I disliked the idea of having them in my house.
Paul- Some art critics believe that your first stage was very Surrealistic, but when you reached Mexico your work developed a more personal style.
Leonora- I don't know, even though I was in contact with Remedios, I did not have much of a relationship with the more 'kosher' Surrealists.
Paul- Yours and Varo's work have common elements. Did you work together to develop a common style?
Leonora- No, not really. When I first met Remedios she was painting in an abstract style, similar to the Cubists.
Paul- So in a way she imitated you?
Leonora- More or less, but I was moving towards a more cunning way, which was influenced by a lot of different things.
Leonora- Remedios and Peret had a Spanish friend called Esteban Frances. Esteban brought the English collector Edward James to my house. He was one of the first to buy my paintings. He had a large collection of Dali's and Picasso's. But a long time passed before a Mexican gallery accepted me. My fist exhibition in Mexico was at a furniture shop.
It was before 1947, I remember because Edward organized a show for me in Pierre Matisse's gallery in New York. During its inaugural I was in hospital giving the first light (birth) to Pablo, who was born in 1947.
Paul- Did motherhood influence your art?
Leonora- I am not sure, but it certainly was a grand commotion. I had no idea what maternal instinct was until I had my children.
After the Matisse gallery show, the critics mentioned me. Inez Amor, the owner of a gallery took an interest in me thanks to the press, and she provided a lot of publicity for me.
Paul- What drove you to write The Hearing Trumpet? It is practically the longest novel that you have written.
Leonora- I wrote it to enjoy myself. Remedios and I would set out to write different things together. I would write the title and I would not tell her what it was about, and she would write the following. When we had five chapters we would put them together, we had a lot of fun. But in the case of The Hearing Trumpet, I simply sat down and wrote it. I set it in the 1950s when I was around forty. I typed it myself on a Remington. A friend of mine, Albert Lewin, a film director, intended on publishing it in New York, but no one was interested in the theme. Finally, Henri Parisot wrote to me from Paris to ask if I had anything.
Paul- You have always been associated with the eccentrics of Surrealism, with the esoteric and the occult. I would like to know the origins of your way of thinking.
Leonora- From a young age, and I believe this happened to many people, I used to have very strange experiences with all sorts of ghosts, visions and other things that were generally condemned by Orthodox Christianity.
Paul- Before getting to know Orthodoxy?
Leonora- Yes, my first inexplicable experiences began when I was two. I've had it all my life. So I couldn't tell you whether it was taught to me through my Catholic education, or whether we were told many ghost stories, who knows? Perhaps from an early age we were in contact with Celtic Mythology. The Celtic and Irish are known to what we call the 'gentry'; faeries, the giants, ghosts, elves, gnomes. . . so I couldn't tell you for certain why I have this mentality, it just came naturally to me.
Paul- You have also been frequently associated with diverse esoteric sects and with the people in these sects. Have you ever participated. . .
Leonora- No, never. No sect has convinced me, nor any religion. The closest thing that came to convincing me was Tibetan Buddhism. In this religion one followed practices that were intellectually satisfying, and in another way their beliefs are extraordinary. But I have always remained on the frontier of this sort of thing. I was always interested in discovering something that corresponded to my experiences. That is what I was really doing, I was comparing it to what I knew inside. Jungian theories also interested me. I knew of Jung before the war, he was someone the Surrealists were interested in.
Paul- You seem very isolated from women and the Women's Movement.
Leonora- Only because I think that women have been oppressed and I do not think many women have developed their potential because they were considered inferior. But that is not to say that women are better than men, or vice versa. What is clear is that the principal preoccupation of the oppressors is not to let women be.
Paul- You know of the saying that all the great Surrealist artists were men, and the women were ignored.
Leonora- They had on masks, the mask of a Muse, so you had to bear this muse even if it was crazily allocated. They all believed that that was the way it goes, and women accepted that. But, to tell you the truth, there were not that many good artists, male or female.
Paul- Culturally speaking, it seems that the work of Frida, Remedios and yourself was developing. . .
Leonora- . . . outside the Surrealist circuit. It is true; for example Frida, who barely had any contact at all with the Surrealists, with the exception of her time in Paris, was very isolated. She worked alone in Mexico. The same goes for Remedios and myself.
Paul- Who do you admire?
Leonora- I admire many people. Of course Max, and I admire painters. I really like Frida's work, I think she was a great artist. Are you referring to artists?
Paul- No, not only artists, others.
Leonora- In my opinion it is not good to completely admire anyone, including God, because in doing so you exclude the darker facets of being human which are important not to despise. If God does exist- then that God must have a dark side just like humans. People are partly white and partly black. So how could I admire someone? You must always have reserve, and one must always have time for oneself. It is not good to give yourself totally to someone else, give all you psyche away. You have to save something for yourself, and this space is always present.