Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011)
Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011)

De la hierba santa

Leonora Carrington (British/Mexican 1917-2011)
De la hierba santa
signed, dated and inscribed 'LEONORA CARRINGTON, 1975, MEXICO' (lower left) signed, dated and inscribed again 'DE LA HIERBA SANTA OF SAINT HERB, CARRINGTON, MEXICO, 1975' (on the reverse)
oil and tempera on canvas
39½ x 27 5/8 in. (100.3 x 70.1 cm.)
Painted in 1975.
Brewster Gallery, New York.
Private collection, San Diego.
CDS Gallery, New York.
Acquired from the above.
Exhibition catalogue, Leonora Carrington: Una Retrospectiva, Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, p. 131, no. 68 (illustrated in color).
L. Andrade, Leonora Carrington: Historia en dos tiempos, Mexico City, Círculo de Arte, 2002, (illustrated in color).
Monterrey, Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Monterrey, Leonora Carrington: Una Retrospecitva, September- November 1994, no. 68.

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

Hierba Santa refers to an herb popular in Mexico for both its medicinal and culinary uses and Carrington probably grew it in her rooftop garden. Also called Hoja Santa, meaning "sacred leaf," the plant has heart-shaped leaves, seen here carefully splayed out as in a botanical illustration. There appear to be a number of playful allusions to the word "sacred" in the plant's name. It floats like an icon in the center of the composition, above a mysterious rocky landscape reminiscent of those seen in Leonardo da Vinci paintings (an artist Carrington admired). In the stylistic depiction of the rocks there is a faint echo of the surrealist decalcomania technique pioneered by Max Ernst around the time of his and Carrington's romantic involvement (1938-42). The celestial blue of the leaves contrasts vividly with the warm orange glow rising over a misty and primordial body of water. A monkey-like creature clings to the stem, its face covered by a cross made of leaves, now a fiery red. One cannot help but think of Catholic sacred heart imagery when examining the red leaf floating in the upper right corner. On this particular leaf that odd monkey now looks more like the legendary mandrake root used in medieval witchcraft, further adding to the work's merry impiety.

On the monkey's chest is a profile of a deer's head with a glowing blue eye. A similar sized-and-colored object (the other eye?) rests on a tiny spoon being offered by the monkey to a ghostly wild peccary. Carrington's paintings and writings typically teem with creatures, many of them native to Mexico (for example, she made many studies of animals at the zoo in Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas while preparing for her mural El mundo mágico de los Mayas, 1964). Long interested in the healing and visionary powers of herbs used by the curanderas (healing women) of Mexico, Carrington created a number of works around this time that also dealt with magic plants and cooking. Grandmother Morehead's Aromatic Kitchen, from 1975 as well, is a spectacular example, but a work from 1976, Snake Bite (Floripondio), also displays large green leaves in addition to a bevy of creatures (monkey, snake, toucan). The two works appear to share an interest in the visionary practices of Mexican shamanism. Thus the deer in Hierba Santa may be an allusion to peyote, popularly referred to as "the little deer," while in Snake Bite, floripondio, a member of the Datura genus, is another powerful hallucinogen used to promote sacred sight. But as always with Carrington, it is best not to assume too much, but rather be open to multiple interpretations.

Susan L. Aberth, Associate Professor of Art History, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

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