Pablo Weisz with the tarot painted by his mother Leonora Carrington.Hector Guerrero
Leonora Carrington painted her own tarot. On 22 tables of 14 by 16 centimeters, one for each major arcana, she poured out her bestiary made of horses and hyenas, of dogs and birds. As if the characters were jumping from her paintings, she placed them in those cards that would synthesize her passions, her desires, her predictions.
To La Estrella’s letter, which usually talks about gifts and sacrifices, he gave her a crazy head of hair, which embodied his own demand for freedom. For The Magician, the card of the beginnings, of the apprentices, he put an intense black background, the nigredo of alchemy, which speaks of putrefaction, of the purification necessary to begin the process of exploration. For the card of The Moon, the card of the poets, of the cosmic mother, of the dark night of the soul, which in all tarots is usually guarded by two animals, he painted a dog and a hyena. The hyena that obsessed her since she was a child. “Some medieval stories say that the hyena has two stones in its eyes and if someone kills it, takes out the stones and puts them under its tongue, it can predict the future,” recalls the Mexican writer Elena in her book about Leonora Carrington. Poniatowska.
Leonora, the bewitched sorceress of Octavio Paz, the Sorcière (the witch) of André Breton, the mythical character, “incarnation of the most vehement surrealism” of Alejandro Jodorowsky, recorded everything she learned since she was a child about the Irish druidic religion, about alchemy and the magic in his painted tarot. “My mother became interested in tarot thanks to the conversations she had with her Hungarian friend, Dr. Desiderio Lang, who had arrived as a political refugee in Mexico. He was a very arrogant man, he said things without fear, he had a vast knowledge of alchemy and Kabbalah and through stories he told you what your fate was,” recalls Pablo Weisz Carrington, one of the two sons of the painter who, for the At the time when these conversations took place and these letters were painted (1955), I was eight years old. Weisz, together with the Leonora Carrington Council, has decided to give new life to those cards painted by his mother and stack them in the manner of a modern tarot deck in a limited edition.
These other knowledges, these symbolic and magical universes were not strange at that time among artists. Surrealism had paid special attention to hypnotism, spiritualism, dreams, astrology, and divination. “Secrets of magical art,” was how André Breton, a friend of Carrington, had titled the first surrealist manifesto. Hermeticism had thus become a fundamental part of artistic creation.
“The surrealists recovered the original meaning of the word alchemy to show that the transmutation of metals was only the metaphor of a much deeper process in relation to the matter of creation… Alchemy, then, is poetry in the sense strongest of the term. And surrealism is really an alchemical transmutation,” can be read in the doctoral thesis of María José González Madrid, from the University of Barcelona, on surrealism and the magical knowledge of Remedios Varo, the artist, unconditional friend of Leonora and companion of his sorcerous explorations.
Of all the knowledge, the tarot had captured special attention from the surrealists, who had analyzed the Marseille version and transformed it to make a new deck of artistic creation and, although Leonora Carrington never properly recognized herself as part of this movement, it did identify itself in this opening towards the less obvious.
His challenges to the world of British royalty, where he came from, to the correct Mexican bourgeoisie in which he had landed, not only involved transgressive acts such as taking off his shoes in the middle of a dinner with well-known figures and smearing mustard on his feet, or painting the walls of filmmaker Luis Buñuel’s apartment with her hands stained with menstrual blood, in response to a romantic invitation to go out. His challenges also involved the forms of the subtle, the symbolic, to give a full place to the magical in his body and in his life. Leonora found in it a form of individual resistance.
“She wanted to have her own cards and that’s why she painted them. The tarot was like a document. Each image was a synthesis of human actions. The Death card was not death, it was change, transformation, which is very different from the concept we have. Each card had its power, each image evoked human conditions and ideas, archetypes,” explains Weisz Carrington.
“A transversal element of Leonora Carrington is this extensive symbolic world that she inhabited. She not only paints it, she constructs it in her way of being in the world. This tarot is a reflection of that. It is a tarot that has its own imprint, which has to do with its own fauna and flora, with its own alchemy. His uses of color have a very own meaning. The Priestess card, which is usually blue or violet, in this tarot is red, and red is knowledge made wisdom, made flesh. It also shows the place he gives to women within his vision,” explains, for her part, the Bolivian poet and tarot expert Micaela Mendoza, who was entrusted with the book that accompanies this limited edition of Leonora’s tarot.
Pablo Weisz, son of Leonora Carrington, poses for a portrait in Mexico City.Hector Guerrero
The 22 small paintings by the artist, delivered in this edition as cards, are not only a way to closely unravel her work, it is the possibility of traveling with them to her most emblematic moments, always accompanied by the tarot cards. “Two days before the birth, a golden chariot—coming from one of the tarot cards—announces the new life,” Elena Poniatowska recalls in her book Leonora, on the eve of the birth of her first child, Pablo. “The two painters (Leonora and Remedios) read alchemy books that have always fascinated Leonora, and they interpret tarot. The story that unites them is synthesized in the arcana,” adds the writer as a witness to the significance that her letters had for the painter.
The first time it was publicly known that the artist had her own tarot was in 2017, in the Leonora Carrington exhibition, Cuentos Mágicos, which was held to commemorate the centenary of her birth at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico. The original gold and silver leaf images had appeared in a private collection and were being exhibited for the first time.
Pablo Weisz Carrington does not know how an object so precious to his mother left her house in the Roma Norte neighborhood of Mexico City — where the artist lived for 70 years and whose will was inherited to him, her eldest son — and ended up in a private collection. But he does know that beyond the fact that these images are recorded in books, the commitment to revive his tarot, to turn his cards into a real deck that can be used, is a commitment to make his artistic and magical legacy, that his rebellion, transcends on a daily basis in the lives of many of the lovers of his work.
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