Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington
“Fantastical and engaging . . .”
It's a tricky thing to make a picture book biography of an artist without showing a single piece of actual art. Amanda Hall, the illustrator of Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington, does a good job of evoking the strange style and jewel-like colors Carrington was known for. If she doesn't quite capture surrealism, she creates a rich visual world that's fantastical and engaging, more accessible to child readers than Magritte or Dali.
The text, by Michelle Markel, is more problematic. We learn that Carrington goes to France to learn from the surrealists, “bossy older men.” There, a mysterious poet “dressed in bottle green, decided on the rules of the group.” What those rules were and who the poet was is never explained, not even in the author's note. It's understandable, perhaps, that Carrington's relationship with Max Ernst is relegated to the backmatter, but why is Frida Kahlo tucked in there? Surely meeting such an important woman painter once Carrington moved to Mexcio was pivotal to her artistic development?
Markel makes a point that Carrington painted things from a woman's point of view, that “her women did things they didn't do in paintings made by men. Instead of lying on a couch, they were listening to the stars. Instead of posing in gowns, they were going on magical processions.” In fact, her fellow surrealists, even the men, painted women in just such ways.
However, being an artist was an incredible act of rebellion for a young girl born into comfort and wealth, and this is something Markel portrays well. If the author wanted to show Leonora's feminist strengths, surely a mention is warranted of her important work with the women's liberation movement in Mexico.
If this book encourages a young reader to learn more about Carrington, then it's provided an important service. For a more thorough sense of artistic creation, of the Surrealists, of women artists in general, and of Carrington's complicated, fascinating life in particular, readers will have to wait for another book to be written. Until then, this book is a good place to start.