Leonora Carrington: Down Below

Dated 23rd of August 1943, this personal account begins with these plain words: “Exactly three years ago, I was interned in Dr. Morales’s sanatorium in Santander, Spain, Dr. Pardo, of Madrid, and the British Consul having pronounced me incurably insane.”

Down Below is a short but unpleasant read, devoid of the whimsy of her two other books that I read earlier this year. This one ironically chronicles a life’s descent into madness — rationally.

The life in question endured the turmoil of WWII; stormy relationships; the arrest of her lover, surrealist artist, Max Ernst, by the Nazis; rape, abuse, and suffering in a mental institution. 

Reading her writings and looking at her paintings is to catch wind of that unique and bizarre voice from her depths, from down below… an abyss where only painting and writing would provide moments of reprieve. 

Leonora Carrington died in 2011 without knowing that she, along with her otherworldly imagination, would be honored in the art world when the Venice Art Biennale would borrow its 2022 title from one of her books, The Milk of Dreams.

But she did know certain things while she lived: she knew how to shield herself from what she considered “the hostility of conformism”, and gave little mind to what others thought of her… and perhaps, in that respect, she was free.

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