Vaucher’s involvement in Crass began while she was still resident in New York, from where she raised funds for the band to fly out and play gigs amidst the downtown No Wave music scene. It provides a wry account of her encounter with Johnny Rotten slumped outside CBGBs. In 1979, Vaucher returned to the UK to resume living at Dial House, this time as part of Crass. Crass attempted to reignite punk’s radicalism and grassroots ideology in the aftermath of its commercialisation following its first wave. The band became synonymous with an ethos of independence through setting up Crass Records to release their own music, and that of other like-minded bands. Vaucher’s designs for Crass were a key component in forging this new direction for punk, and the chapter looks at how the visual language she developed through her extensive body of designs for record sleeves, inserts, posters and other ephemera fused the aggression of punk with the pacifism and alternative life choices of the counterculture. Her work in this period makes use of satirical humour, attacking the bastions of punk, Sex Pistols, equally with establishment figureheads. Her work critiquing the role of the patriarchal nuclear family unit and Church in fostering oppression, and featuring the home as the setting where familial drama is played out is shown to draw on Surrealist anti-rationalism. Her work is discussed in relation to anarcho-feminist ideas that were gaining traction at the time, as evidenced in the output of Crass, Poison Girls and anarcho-punk fanzines.
This final chapter explores the notion of the circus performer through Donna Haraway’s notion of the “boundary creature.” It offers a forecast for Leonora Carrington studies with close consideration to Double Edge Theatre’s lived politics. It seeks to overturn anti-intellectual views of Carrington’s œuvre in order offer new ways forward for feminist politics and creative practices. In particular, this chapter uses the model of Double Edge Theatre’s alternative lifestyle and farm as a practical investigation of Carrington’s feminism and eco-criticism. I draw on my own experiences of attending a harvest performance of Leonora’s World (2019).
Chapter 3 is an exploration of the intersection between esotericism and conceptual art which positions Carrington at its core. Here, the focus is on the Glasgow-based conceptual artist and Turner Prize nominee, Lucy Skaer (b.1975), who prepared a Leonora cycle (2006 and 2012) in which the curatorial possibilities of the Tarot were investigated. Skaer’s practice offers one of the most insightful inversions of Carrington. For anyone familiar with Skaer’s critically self-reflexive work on the nature of visuality and mixed-media approach to interrogating “the image,” her interest in a visual narrator like Carrington would perhaps initially strike one as surprising. Yet, since 2006, Skaer has claimed Carrington as a “disassembling logic,” a catalyst for being able to reconsider her own approach to art-making. The chapter draws on the author’s own curated exhibition Leonora Carrington/Lucy Skaer at Leeds Arts University (2016) as well as other installations of Skaer’s cycle.
Best known for her work with punk provocateurs Crass, Gee Vaucher (b. 1945) is widely acknowledged for the idiosyncratic and powerful images that have played a decisive role in shaping alternative culture over the last fifty years. This is the first book to critically assess an extensive range of her work, situating it in a lineage from early twentieth-century avant-garde art movements through the counterculture and punk and on to contemporary street art. It provides a fascinating insight into social and cultural history from a vital but hitherto marginalised perspective. While Vaucher rejects all ‘isms’, her work offers a unique perspective within the history of feminist art. The book explores how her experience has shaped this perspective, with particular focus on the anarchistic, open house collective at Dial House.
While the prevailing trend in Carrington studies is around the dialogic and the collaborative, this chapter presents a case for creative solitude. It argues for nuance in the use of Carrington by focusing on two novelists. This chapter also takes a practical approach to the notion of fieldwork and eco-feminist research. Indeed, Carrington has much to offer current debates around the politics of balancing a creative practice with parenthood. The Canadian-Ukrainian writer and fashion designer, Heidi Sopinka (b.1971), recently published The Dictionary of Animal Languages (2018), a novel based on the Leonora Carrington narrative. Here, Carrington is reimagined as Ivory Frame, an animal painter turned biologist, now aged 92 and researching communication and ecology. Notions of creative solitude abound in this novel and chime with the Mexican, London-based writer Chloe Aridjis (b.1971), who similarly self-presents the benefits of introversion in her film with Josh Appignanesi, Female Human Animal (2018), as well as in her novelistic writing (2009, 2013, 2019). Carrington’s own notion of a “female human animal” (1970) is crucial to both writers, as such hybridity queries binary thinking.
This is a contextualising introduction to Leonora Carrington that surveys the landscape of her legacies, critical responses and fandom in a range of artistic media. I begin with the metaphor of the pilgrimage as a way into the current challenges of Carrington studies, and review the existing historiography on Carrington, justifying my understanding of quotation, my position “against influence” and “for intellectualism,” and use of a feminist-surrealist revisionary methodology, with close reference to avant-garde theorist Susan Rubin Suleiman (1990) and mythographer Marina Warner (1989), as well as discussion of more recent revisionary scholarship by Natalya Lusty (2007) and Anna Watz (2016). The introduction also provides a chapter outline for what follows.
Over the last decade, Gee Vaucher has been increasingly recognised in academia, the art world and the media. Despite her raised profile, she remains an elusive figure, who prides herself on her political and creative autonomy. She retains some reticence to her work being held in public collections, while refusing outright to sell it for private collectors and institutions – something which makes it hard to value in art market terms. Steeped in the counterculture of the 1970s, punk politics specific to Crass in the 1980s and the anti-establishment ethos of street and protest art popularised by Banksy in the 2000s, her critique of power imbalance at a personal, familial, societal and political level is evident throughout her oeuvre, while her much-vaunted autonomy is something that continues to guide her approach. The introduction to this first-ever monograph on this singular artist provides an overview of Vaucher’s work with performance art collectives and her involvement in the free festivals movement; her time working as a successful freelance illustrator for mainstream magazines in New York, immersed in the punk-Bohemian world of the lower east side (1977–79); the intense six-year period when she defined the Crass’ aesthetic, and exerted influence on the direction of punk and music graphics; her more introspective period in the 1990s, when her work took on a vast array of mediums; and her reconnection with more collaborative and political art practices in the 2000s. The author’s personal connection to the subject matter is also discussed.
Many creative intellectuals have written or spoken of their pilgrimage to meet the English/Mexican, surrealist-associated artist and writer Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) as being a profound encounter. Since her death in May 2011, there have been a profusion of creative responses to her and her work, from theatrical productions to experimental performances, from electronica to folk music, and from fashion photography to curatorial projects. This survey or curating of Carrington unpicks why artists, writers and performers, especially creative women, have become preoccupied with making work in her legacy. Such fixations and fandom move beyond mere influence, offering a way of approaching art-making and political themes as an attitude or Zeitgeist. The study focuses on the ways in which Carrington is recycled, in the writing of Chloe Aridjis and Heidi Sopinka, the conceptual art of Lucy Skaer and Tilda Swinton, and the performative practice of Samantha Sweeting, Lynn Lu, and Double Edge Theatre in order to speak to current feminist and eco-critical campaigns such as #MeToo and Writers Rebel. The book’s feminist-surrealist emphasis proposes that it is Carrington, and not one of the central players in surrealism like André Breton and Max Ernst, who is chief in keeping the surrealist message alive today.
Animal rights were at the heart of Carrington’s philosophy and much of the activism she has come to represent. This chapter considers the individual and collaborative practices of Singapore-born, London-based artists, Lynn Lu (b.1974) and Samantha Sweeting (b.1982). It explores Carrington’s child-woman status and her zoological fascination through their performance art. In the same year as Carrington’s death, Lu and Sweeting collaborated on The Hearing Trumpet (2011), a dialogic public engagement performance installation, based on Carrington’s novel of the same title. A reprisal for 2016 involved Victorian animal-snap cards as an innovative ice-breaker between potentially like-minded audience members. Again, the author draws on her own experiences of curating this performance at Leeds Arts University (2016).
This chapter explores Vaucher’s early commercial work in the UK and success as a freelance illustrator while living in New York (1977–79), where she created designs for mainstream magazines, such as the New York Times and Rolling Stone. This period also saw Vaucher begin to experiment with her own self-produced magazines and journals, which provided an outlet for her more radical output. Her first self-published journal, Pent-Up, engaged with sexual politics; using pin-ups to form a distinct critique of the subjugation of women in society. This provided a stark contrast to the male-dominated underground press publications of the 1960s, which had used pornographic content as unambiguously symbolic of sexual liberation. In this respect, Vaucher is shown to continue the free and independent ethos of her predecessors, while forming a critique more in sync with the changes heralded by the women’s movement. However, Vaucher’s unique take on feminism is shown to be distinct from its contemporaneous incarnation in key respects; notably through ascribing her pin-ups with agency. This chapter further situates Vaucher’s practice within a movement of artists inspired by radical politics that questioned cultural hegemony and intended art to function for social change. Parallels are drawn with contemporaries including Martha Rosler and Peter Kennard, who both also worked with photomontage and made incursions into public spaces. However, her anarchistic, as opposed to left-wing, perspective is shown to provide a singular critique of the era. The influence of Dada, notably John Heartfield and Hannah Hőch, is also explored.