This afterword summarises the book’s findings and argues that feminist movements can find strong allies in contemporary arts produced by men. The final focus is on Carrington’s compelling use of the feminist grotesque in Simphiwe Ndzube’s recent painting-assemblage As They Rode Along the Edge (2020) and China Miéville’s novella The Last Days of New Paris (2016). Both Ndzube and Miéville make explicit reference to Carrington’s wartime drawing I am an Amateur of Velocipedes (1941), whether collaging it into text or recycling the composition. Interestingly, both Ndzube and Miéville use examples of Carrington’s wartime output, and both use her characters as forms of exquisite corpse disguise, ultimately as acts of resistance to patriarchal landscapes. The afterword closes with a word of warning around misappropriation, namely David Cameron’s ill-advised visit to Magical Tales (2018).
Chapter 2 is a consideration of Carrington in the realm of fashion photography and performance art, leading to a discussion around cult status intersecting with pop culture. Tim Walker and Tilda Swinton (b.1960) summoned Leonora Carrington most potently in two iconic fashion stories, firstly for W Magazine (2013) then for i-D Magazine (2017). In these colourful and sumptuously upholstered scenes, with their eccentric perspectives, Swinton inhabits the irrational corners of the imagination, embodying the characters of Carrington’s visual narratives and borrowing from her distinctive iconography. Swinton portrays figures such as the medieval jester in Carrington’s painting Darvault (1950) and the robed creature in And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur (1953), among others. The overall effect is one of embodied storytelling, an intergenerational dialogue with Carrington as a medium to be working in and through. The sense of excess and abundance presented here is a contrast to a sparer, cooler aesthetics found in other facets of Swinton’s practice such as The Maybe (1995) where the actor displayed herself asleep in a vitrine. Swinton’s more recent curatorial projects are also considered, thus segueing into the next chapter.
This chapter introduces the salient features of Leonora Carrington’s esoteric art and writing. It unpacks the multiple meanings of the term “medium,” encompassing both its literal application (such as egg tempera paint) and its more poetic sensibility, both Carrington’s own interest in the occult as well as the idea of her work as a conduit for contemporary makers. This chapter uses an archaeological approach to Carrington’s key themes in order to mind her epistemologies or theories of knowledge. It considers her own extensive bibliographic sources such as children’s picture-book illustration as well as recurrent motifs with her work (e.g. the carousel horse, flying vehicles and dollhouse architecture).
Political agitation and public intervention in the new millennium
In the twenty-first century, Vaucher’s work rekindled its overtly political content in the aftermath of the Iraq War. A preoccupation with Palestine emerged, again mirroring her contemporary Peter Kennard. She formed a friendship with Banksy and contributed works to his Santa’s Ghetto project among others. Her work is situated in the context of the street art scene, anti-globalisation campaigns, the Occupy movement and collaborative art. Her work received renewed attention from younger generations with a quest for authenticity – both from people trying once again to carve out a genuine outsider space, and from ‘hipsters’, whose interest could be seen to tip over into cultural appropriation. While she returned to themes of pacifism and anti-militarism that were a key component of her work with Crass, her later output reveals a more subtle and varied aesthetic. This output is examined in the context of a period of political polarisation and social discontent, following years of austerity in the United Kingdom, and war, disasters and a refugee crisis worldwide, highlighting its relevance to a young, post-postmodern generation. Over this period, the process of her recognition also gathered pace, and 2016 saw both her first major retrospective exhibition and her work adopted as the abiding visual response to the election of Donald Trump. The impact of social media on both dissemination and meaning is discussed, while Vaucher’s unique approach to controlling the art market is revealed to be the overriding source of her autonomy.
This chapter explores the influence of Vaucher’s working class childhood in post-war Dagenham on her outlook and artwork. The roots of her pacifism, autonomy (in particular with regard to gender roles) and embrace of communal living, are all shown to originate in this milieu, as opposed to the counterculture or women’s movement. The chapter goes on to explore the role of art schools in engendering cultural change in Britain during the 1960s. It explores Vaucher’s experience of attending South East Essex Technical College and School of Art (1961–65), where her capabilities as a solo artist flourished. Her largely figurative early work is shown to embody a social realist quality that would become pronounced in her later illustrations for magazines, her journal International Anthem and Crass. It was also in this context that she met her lifelong creative partner, Penny Rimbaud, and their bond was formed through their shared ‘innate disobedience’ as well as their love of Pop Art and the Independent Group. The social mobility of the post-war decades facilitated cultural protagonists, including Vaucher, to emerge from the newly democratised art schools and universities, from a wider social background than was previously the case. Despite this, Vaucher’s experience of the art school environment was as an overwhelmingly middle-class environment that invoked reticence in her. The chapter also explores the formative role of the Aberfan Disaster (1966) on her world view.
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.