Art review: Leonora Carrington/Lucy Skaer @ Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds

Lucy Skaer - Harlequin

Lucy Skaer – Harlequin

As I enter the empty room, I hear the rather violent click and whirr of a video tape reel, set going by invisible hands, and the image of late Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington appears on the wall in front of me. Currently the sole person at the exhibition, I have the uncanny sense of a departed presence being summoned into being for my observation.

As it turns out, this is precisely the effect intended by exhibition curator Catriona McAra who has envisioned this posthumous yet collaborative artistic venture as a form of ‘séance.’ 2017 marks the centenary of Carrington’s birth, and this timely exhibition positions works by the artist herself alongside contemporary responses by Lucy Skaer, Samantha Sweeting and Lynn Lu.

Skaer’s are particularly fascinating since she had the privilege of meeting Carrington in 2006 when she took an impromptu trip to Mexico and turned up (unannounced) on the artist’s doorstep. Her works on display here bridge the gap between the periods before and after Carrington’s death in 2011, and it is intriguing to view her post-mortem photographs of the artist’s front door alongside earlier images of the 90-year-old Carrington herself.

Leonora Carrington 'Badger Suite' (3 etchings) (1987)

Leonora Carrington ‘Badger Suite’ (3 etchings) (1987)

Perhaps some familiarity with Leonora Carrington would help the viewer (even a quick Google search would probably do), as the pieces on display here are principally either from very early on in her artistic career, already showing the germs of themes and images that would obsess her throughout her life, or else are late etchings and prints from the 1990s. Having said that, Carrington’s images, particularly the ‘Badger’ etchings, are beguiling regardless of context, as is demonstrated in her continued ability to fascinate and inspire.

This is an exhibition of hidden and often slightly disconcerting treasures. I almost didn’t spot Sweeting and Lu’s contribution, ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ (a reference to Carrington’s novel of the same name), positioned as it was in a corner far below eye level (in fact, I assumed it was an unconventional doorstop). It is actually an antique trumpet fixed at a frankly uncomfortable height on the wall so that visitors can put their ear to the mouthpiece (or, in this case, earpiece) in order to overhear whispered confessions. It was whilst I was investigating this exhibit that another couple entered the room to find me crouched, half-squatting, half-propped against the wall. As the woman smiled bemusedly, I became conscious of my ridiculousness; they left before I did, and never approached the trumpet, so what on earth did they think I had been doing?

 Leonora Carrington from 'Beasts'' (1998)

Leonora Carrington from ‘Beasts” (1998)

Before this, I had been reflecting that perhaps ‘The Hearing Trumpet’ was rather too serious a response to the irreverent genius of Carrington’s masterpiece; then I realised that the absurdly funny element of this artwork was in fact me. Whether or not this was Sweeting and Lu’s intention, I was nonetheless very aware of the ghost of Leonora Carrington at that moment, somewhere, someplace, no doubt having a damn good laugh at me.

Leonora Carrington/Lucy Skaer is on show at the Blenheim Walk Gallery, Leeds College of Art until the 2nd September 2016.