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Lost and found?

23 June 2010

Must be something in the water — the British AND Frida Kahlo… once again.

Joanna Moorhead,the Guardian (U.K.) art writer, describes  distant cousin, Leonora Carrington, as a “lost” British artist. I beg to differ. Carrington is hardly lost… let alone British. She abandoned Britain at the age of twenty because it was stifling her creativity.  How she came to be a Mexican was the subject of an earlier post, but the point is, she’s a Mexican — not British — artist.

At just under five minutes into the video, Moorhead finally gives Carrington a chance to speak of herself and her own art. What she says (at 5:50) is the key to the difference between the British and Mexican way of seeing. “You’re trying to intellectualize — desperately!”, the 93 year old artist says in exasperation.

(Although I believe use of the clip would be fair use, The Guardian — where this clip appeared — beleives otherwise, and no way I can afford it… here’s the short link:

At the risk of intellectualizing, I think I can expand on  Doña Leonora’s  dismissal of the questions.  Briefly.  And incompletely.

The English-speaking world can’t comprehend — without a lot of rationalizing — that the world is an irrational place.

Our ghosts, our Virgins, our simultaneous realities do not fit easily into the Empirical and coldly rationalist world-view of the north, and those who accept multiple realities are “lost” to that world.

  • That a traditional lifestyle and modern world co-exists seems “magical” except when it is an everyday occurence.  I have written before about taking the bus to Santa Fe, the high-tech, post-modern, corporate corridor of Mexico City, seated next to a traditionally dressed indigenous lady, which whom I chatted… about DSL connections and WiFi.  Or, a corporate attorney I worked with… who thought he captured on his cell phone camera an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.  While he figured out it was a trick of light, still… he was willing to accept the possibility of such an appearance.  There is no one reality. Not even an ultimate one.
  • In the Spanish language, “to be” has two forms:  estar and serEstar is a changeable or impermanent state, Ser is permanent.  And what is more permanent than death?  But we do not say, “Señor Kurtz, se murto” but “Señor Kurtz, está muerto” — Mr. Kurtz is dead right now, but that’s not necessarily the last word on the subject.  There is no last word, and no reason to spend a lot of extraneous words getting around that.

Carrington — although self-described as a “surrealist” is comfortable with the multiple realities, and paints what she sees.  That what she sees is not what others see is only an accident of talent.  That alone makes her Latin American, but there is another trait at work here … one that the English (and English-speakers in general) … cannot comprehend without creating an intellectual framework.

To the northerners, individualism is the hallmark of the artist (which helps explain why Kahlo — a very individualist painter — is so highly regarded outside Latin America).

  • In this culture, artists are just people who do art… their lives may be interesting or completely mundane, but who have a skill at putting on canvas what they see.  What they see may not be what you and I see, but then — being Latin Americans, there is no reason to believe we all see the same things anyway.
  • This doesn’t mean we don’t accept eccentricity or even deviance.  Rather, we absorb it into our own flexible reality.  This tolerance for oddity is perhaps stronger in Mexico than elsewhere.  As I’m fond of quoting from William S. Burroughs (an individualist, an artist and a deviant par excellence):  “…it simply would not occur to a Mexican to expect criticism from a stranger, nor to criticize the behavior of others.

Nor would a Mexican criticize the reality of others.  Carrington is not lost.  She never was… she just had the luck to find a world where there is nothing to explain, nor any expectation that she should.

* A minor correction from the original, respectfully suggested by one reader in Peru.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. otto permalink
    23 June 2010 6:17 am

    I would again expand that to “…Latin American ideal is respect AMONG (not towards) people”, but with that nitpicking aside, I totally agree. When this gringo castaway stopped thinking he began to learn a lot more. Long way to go, but plenty of patience.

  2. 23 June 2010 8:53 am

    What a wonderful posting.

    For what it’s worth, this is my musing for today.

    “Understanding Mexico seems complex because solving one mystery presents another. Life here is a fragmented composite of the magical and the mundane, of fact and myth and more. Most situations seem to have several solutions that are at odds with one another and attempting to determine what is valid and what is not, is folly. Those who’ve successfully immersed into this culture, simply sit back and let it unfold. They say there’s one constant: you’ll always be surprised!”

  3. 23 June 2010 2:02 pm

    “The English-speaking world can’t comprehend — without a lot of rationalizing — that the world is an irrational place.” Rodo has a blog, eh?

  4. Maggie permalink
    23 June 2010 3:56 pm

    Bravo Richard, beautiful.


  1. Leonora Carrington, D.E.P. « The Mex Files

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