Surrealism’s Daughters

surreal cows head

Leonora Carrington’s fantastical figures emerge in the 1953 painting “And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur” at Gallery Wendi Norris: a seated goddess-cum-mystical figure with a cow’s head and a green moth-flower unfurling like a gigantic leaf. Credit Estate of Leonora Carrington/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Gallery Wendi Norris.

The creature with a “cow’s head” in Carrington’s “And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur” looks like the minotaur bred a doe, which of course is surreally plausible.

The French capital was alive with Surrealism and its contagious emphasis on the subconscious, dreams, startling juxtapositions and general otherworldliness.

surreal carrington down below

Carrington’s “Down Below,” from 1940. The artist’s imaginary settings, characters and palette change with each canvas. Credit Estate of Leonora Carrington/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York; via Gallery Wendi Norris.

Contagious perhaps, but why do I find some of these paintings chilly? I think they work a little too hard at otherworldliness. Perhaps I find it hard to dissociate paintable strangeness from this world.

Surrealism, the most accessible of modern art movements, still has its secrets.

I may be more challenged than I thought in finding surrealism “accessible”; however, if I can read into a painting even a hint of humor and irony, I warm to it.

surreal orinoco

Remedios Varo’s “Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco River,” from 1959. Credit Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VEGAP, Madrid.

In Remedios Varos’s painting, the mighty Orinoco River squirts from a goblet. A lady explorer in natty attire, ensconced in an outlandish vessel, has discovered its origin. This pallor-ridden concoction full of delicate drawing and fussy brushing draws me in. I discover details: her hat is actually built into her easy-chair boat, which has a side-pocket for notes and receipts; a tiny compass is conveniently mounted on a flexed material squarely in front of her; her right hand fingers a drawstring that controls side-flaps and a wing-like sail (note how the strings are routed through her epaulet buttons); her left hand manipulates a rope that actuates a bellows-like propulsive mechanism… and so forth. It’s enjoyable not for its painterly properties but because it’s so fastidiously conceived and wittily engineered — a visual joke.

(Roberta Smith, “Female Surrealists Re-emerge in 2 Startling Shows,” NYTimes, 6-13-19)

(c) 2019 JMN

About JMN

I live in Texas and devote much of my time to easel painting on an amateur basis. I stream a lot of music, mostly jazz, throughout the day, and watch Netflix and Prime Video for entertainment. I like to read and memorize poetry.
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