Tea and Creatures with Leonora Carrington

Chloe Aridjis recalls taking tea with the great Surrealist in her home in Mexico

Over time, even the numbers 194 on her front door seemed to grow more creaturely, the first gatekeepers one encountered upon arrival, followed by Leonora Carrington herself, swathed in grey. Her home in Mexico City was a chessboard of Mexican sunlight and European shadow – much of the house was stone-chilly and austere, but then you’d step into a patch of sun or come face-to-face with one of her sculptures, an eruption of life emerging from the murk. After a brief greeting, she would lead you from the entrance to the kitchen. The kettle would already be on, an old metal thing rattling over the fire, while her two Siamese cats, Monsieur and Ramona, silently patrolled the premises.

I took some photographs of her one afternoon as we sat having tea, struck by the procession of instruments hanging behind where Leonora was seated. Their shadows – evoking claws, shovels, tridents, horned creatures – were imbued with a Fantasia sorcerer’s potential, and I half expected them to come alive and start marching around. I’m not certain Leonora herself was even aware of this optical effect, which so aptly mirrored the co-existence of the fantastical and the quotidian in her own work, and I don’t remember ever seeing such shadows again. 


Leonora Carrington in her home, 2011, photographed by Homero Aridjis. Courtesy: Chloe Aridjis

Leonora Carrington in her home, 2011, photographed by Homero Aridjis. Courtesy: Chloe Aridjis

Looming out of the corners of her living room, one of the duskiest regions of the house, were Leonora’s oven sculptures: tall bronze witnesses to her daily life. Created from smaller models and then packed off to the foundry – in her words, ‘a great alchemical laboratory’ – they would return lengthened and transformed. Towering over everyone, the mask-like faces would stare out, radiating an enigmatic serenity, while down at each base a little door opened into a square compartment that could, ostensibly, be used as an oven, though I’m not sure anyone ever tried. Leonora called this sculpture ING (c.1994), as in cook-ing, paint-ing, see-ing: a sort of Golem figure, it represented the verb incarnate. In her world, everything might possess a soul; even grammar becomes an entity. When posing for this photograph, Leonora stood up straight and rested a hand on ING’s arm, her hint of a smile, gracious and reserved, mimicking the creature’s own. The framed cloudy window behind them gives the impression they have stepped out of a painting, emptying the canvas of its figures.


Leonora Carrington with ING, 1994, photographed by Chloe Aridjis

Leonora Carrington with ING, 1994, photographed by Chloe Aridjis. Courtesy: Chloe Aridjis

The final addition to Leonora’s menagerie was Yeti, a lively Maltese dog who accompanied her during the last three years of her life, after her cats and husband had passed away. The last photograph I have of her was taken by my father in March 2011, two months before she died. The dog exists in the present, its gaze fastened on the plate of biscuits on the table, while Leonora’s focus is on something beyond. Clutching her cigarette, she is aware of the camera yet doesn’t acknowledge its presence. Her expression is intense, indomitable. Behind her crouches an old stove – ING’s clunkier, once more functional, cousin – and, most importantly, the door to the kitchen: one of many charged thresholds in her home. 

Main image: Leonora Carrington’s kitchen, c.1998, photographed by Chloe Aridjis. Courtesy: Chloe Aridjis

Chloe Aridjis is a writer who lives in London, UK. Her third novel, Sea Monsters, will be published by Chatto & Windus in early 2018.

Issue 6

First published in Issue 6

October 2017

Most Read

A year marked by new visualizations, both controversial and celebrated, of the black body
The Courtauld Gallery, London, UK
Openings at the new ICA, The Bass and PAMM played out against a backdrop of geographic uncanniness and atmospheric...
With the recent razing of suburban slums, tightening censorship and the sad passing of Geng Jianyi, a year of...
Nicholas Mangan, Ancient Lights (detail), 2015, two-screen installation, solar panels, batteries, projectors powered by solar energy, dimensions variable. Courtesy: the artist, Sutton Gallery, Melbourne, Hopkinson Mossman, Auckland and Labor, Mexico
At once stagnant and dynamic, politically tense and blissfully buoyant, the French capital was a strange place to be...
From victims of Hurricane Harvey to the music of Roger Waters, 2017 has been full of renewed debate around support for...
In further news: MOCA Detroit suspends Jens Hoffmann after harassment allegations; Met refuses to remove ‘suggestive’...
‘Conflicts of interest’ may have cost Beatrix Ruf her Stedelijk job but the problem doesn’t just lie with individuals...
Her work animates the consequences of our colonial history and the construction of identity politics: in a divided...
France's President Emmanuel Macron meets Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore at the Presidential Palace in Burkina Faso on November 28, 2017. Courtesy: LUDOVIC MARIN/AFP/Getty Images
The French President’s recent comments hint at a dubious politics: using art restitution as a stopgap to France’s...
More from today’s Briefing: protesting Raghubir Singh; documenta artists defend exhibition (again); Enrico Castellani (...
Tiffany and Co., Sterling Silver Paper Cup, 2017, from the ‘Everyday Objects’ collection. Courtesy: Tiffany and Co., New York
Tiffany & Co.’s new range of gift objects and the shifting meaning of the ‘everyday’
From Hannah Black to Not Surprised, the changes demanded by today’s letter writers are still a long way from being...
Johan Grimonprez, Shadow World, 2016, film still. Courtesy: the artist, Sean Kelly Gallery, New York, Galerie Kamel Mennour, Paris, Flatland Gallery, Amsterdam, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, Simi Valley, Louverture Films, Dillywood and Shadow World inc., New York
Johan Grimonprez’s recent films explore the mechanisms of the arms trade
A pivot to glass by the sculptor shows an attempt to see hope through political disillusionment
In further news: initiative for museum staff diversity; Gwangju Biennale's 2018 curators; Jens Hoffmann clarifies Front...
Ahead of Manifesta’s opening in Palermo next summer, the importance of remembering an alternative Mediterranean...
Inverting the gaze: real life biography, game play fantasy and Frantz Fanon combine in the British artist’s films
Old Food, 2017, production still. Courtesy: the artist, Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin, Cabinet Gallery, London, Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York and Rome, and dépendance, Brussels
Helen Marten responds to Ed Atkins’s new work, Old Food, currently showing at Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin
Elsewhere: activists protest AfD with Holocaust Memorial replica; censorship at Kuala Lumpur Biennale; Venice Biennale'...
Twenty years after the First Cyberfeminist International at Documenta X, what does Cyberfeminism look like in...
Thinking about propaganda, palimpsests, and a presentation of Tino Sehgal works in Moscow
As London's Architectural Association celebrates 100 years of female students, rediscovering the city designed by women
Lin May Saeed, Lobster, 2017. Metal, 11 x 24 x 14.5 cm. Courtesy: the artist, Nicolas Krupp, Basel, Jacky Strenz, Frankfurt am Main and Lulu, Mexico City
Lulu, Mexico City, Mexico
For the 6th Amsterdam Art Weekend, our picks of the best shows and events across the Dutch capital
Highlights of the shows included in the third iteration of Dublin Gallery Weekend
An interview with Casco – Office for Art, Design and Theory, on new ways for art institutions to work
With her current show at Studio_Leigh, London, the artist shares some important images
Recent instances of censorship show an emboldened far right attacking the arts, queer identity and more: artists,...
The staggering price reached by Salvator Mundi prompts the question: what are you really buying when you buy an artwork?
Wong Kar-wai, Happy Together, 1997, film still. Courtesy: the artist and Alamy 
From the new issue of frieze: Changes in urban cultures and queer aesthetics across the Sinosphere 
On the occasion of two UK solo exhibitions, the British artist reflects on the art and events that have shaped her...

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018