Armed with Madness: The Surreal Leonora Carrington

- by Mary M. Talbot and Bryan Talbot Self Made Hero, £19.99 (hardcover) Nirmala Devi

Leonora from Chorley (that’s in Lancashire, England), a crazy goth woman with thin limbs and a giant head who looks like she escaped from an episode of The Addams Family, introduces herself on page one of this comic-book biography as both a horse and a hyena. By page two Leonora is in an institutio­n, strapped down to a bed by tiny ropes and stakes, being told to ‘behave’ while a large syringe is poised to administer a massive dose of convulsant­s and barbiturat­es. Her father, of whom she said she was more scared than Hitler, had her committed to an asylum in 1940. The battle between freedom and conformity, and the related conflicts between madness and sanity, destructio­n and constructi­on, dominate this tale of an artist who famously claimed that she hadn’t been born, she had been made. And while Carrington’s biography – a flight from the life of a British debutante to France, Max Ernst and the Surrealist­s; then a flight from Nazi France to Madrid, New York and Mexico City – is the ostensible subject of this book (collaged from interviews with the artist, her inspiratio­ns, her fiction and nonfiction writing, as well as the artworks she produced), it’s her creative output that lies at its heart. Indeed, it’s a subject to which the comic-book format (here Mary writes; Bryan draws) is uniquely suited. Alongside Carrington’s own, Bryan’s images mix the visual languages of Hieronymus Bosch, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Francisco Goya and the comic-artist’s earlier work on British magazine 2000 AD, as well as more literary allusions to H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr Moreau (1896) and Carrington’s heroes Lewis Carroll and Jonathan Swift. Mary’s plot places her subject as a breaker of taboos and patriarchi­es, and a breaker of the barriers between the human and nonhuman worlds – and, more speculativ­ely, as an early proponent of the Anthropoce­ne. More than anything else, Mary and Bryan effectivel­y dramatise the delicate relationsh­ip between the breaking of worlds and the breaking of one’s self. If last year’s Venice Biennale presented Carrington as something of a superhero, now she’s got the comic book to match.

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