My highlight: Leonora Carrington

Ahead of the Tate Liverpool exhibition, Chloe Aridjis is inspired by Carrington’s oracular animal hybrids, her great natural and mythical worlds – and her fierce authenticity

“I am as mysterious to myself as I am mysterious to others,” Leonora Carrington once said in an interview. Loyal to their creator, the figures in her paintings are similarly hermetic and complex, often poised between what seems like enigma and revelation, envoys of hieroglyphs we can’t quite decipher. Sometimes the horizon is dominated by a towering figure reminiscent of Bosch or Brueghel, such as her Saint Anthony, a three-headed hermit whose temptation prevails over his solitude, or the moon-faced Giantess, (or The Guardian of the Egg) – the egg from which both life and paintings (one of Leonora’s favourite mediums was egg tempera) are hatched.

She felt equally at home with the fantastical and the quotidian, and roamed freely between the two, scarcely distinguishing between them. An émigré from the old world to the new, Carrington left wartorn Europe in her early 20s and settled into a relatively peaceful existence in Mexico City, where over the next seven decades she mapped out her own geography. Much of her universe is populated by oracular animal hybrids, part of an ever-evolving bestiary that originated in her affinity with freer, or feral, spirits and the strong belief that “there are many egos within one person”.

The landscapes these beings inhabit hark back to the Flemish or Renaissance masters and their blue distances; others are inspired by the great natural and mythological worlds – and underworlds – Mexico has to offer, or evoke her own Celtic roots. Their light is ancient, yet it shimmers with signs of a more modern, and often playful, psyche. Carrington was armed with a fierce authenticity and, despite several difficult chapters in life (war, heartbreak, time in an asylum), she never abandoned her radical quests.

After leaving England in 1937, she rarely returned. But now, four years after her death, dozens of the extraordinary works she made in Mexico will travel to Merseyside, not far from the Lancastrian haunts of her childhood. The walls of Tate Liverpool will be gryphoned and minotaured, drawing visitors into startling labyrinths of meaning where Leonora’s preternatural vision – restless, irreverent, darkly enchanted – will reign.

• Leonora Carrington opens at Tate Liverpool on 6 March, and will run to 31 May.

Chloe Aridjis

The GuardianTramp

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