Archive for September, 2010

12 years ago I was in Madrid working as an au pair for a family with a bi-lingual father.  The father had an eclectic selection of English language books, which I worked my way through.  One of these books was a short story collection, The Seventh Horse and Other Tales by Leonora Carrington.  It was a battered Virago copy, and I have no idea how it came to be on the bookshelves.  I fell in love with the surreal tales, a collection of sensual, imaginative tales which disturbed and beguiled me.  When the time came for me to leave Madrid, this book ‘found its way’ into my luggage, and has been with me ever since.  Carrington remained an obsession of mine, this little-known English-born surrealist artist who, still alive, has lived in Mexico for many years. 

When I read that there was going to be a retrospective of her work at Pallant House in Chichester I didn’t hesitate.  I caught the train from London and went to see her work that I’d only ever seen in reproduction on the internet.  The exhibition ‘Surreal Friends – Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna’  covered the work of three women who had lived and worked together in Mexico, all Europeans fleeing war-torn Europe.  The women shared a surrealist aesthetic, and a belief in the value of women’s lives.  Domestic images, particularly scenes from the kitchen, are central to their work.

It felt like a homecoming.  Carrington’s work was as strange, disturbing, sensual and playful as her prose.  Remedios Varo’s work, which I’d been unfamiliar with, was similar in its concerns but subtly different in execution.  I didn’t want to leave the gallery, I wanted to stay in their world.  They overlapped with Frida Kahlo, and were friends, but their work is more subtle and has more depth.  After a long wait to see Carrington’s art, I felt inspired and comforted by her work and her life.


From Chichester I went to Hastings and to an exhibition called Outsider Art.  The artists were all amateurs, most of whom had mental health problems and had had no exposure to the mainstream art world.  Their stories were moving, but this wasn’t an exercise in patronisation.  The work was powerful and of high quality, and took a look at the world from unusual perspectives. 


On Yom Kippur, my mother and I were taking a break from the synagogue.  We were walking around Stoke Newington, when a man approached us.  I stiffened, immediately expecting the London request for money.  Shame on me.  The man explained that his son was an artist and had an exhibition in a tiny gallery off the main street.  As a proud father, he wanted to tell people to go and see his son’s work.  My mother and I went to see the exhibition, and it was stunning.  Joshua Bloom had a science undergraduate degree, but clearly had an a strong artistic sensibility that has been influenced by his scientific training.  His photos, particularly of landscapes, are almost abstract in their perspectives, but never without humanity.  It felt like a very special, and unexpectedly aposite experience to be seeing his work with my mother, because his father had stopped us on the street and wanted to share his paternal pride with strangers.



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