Leonora Carrington (1917-2011)
- Leonora Carrington
- El juglar
- signed and dated 1954 lower left
- oil on canvas
Kati Horna, Mexico City
Private Collection, Mexico City
Sale: Christie's, New York, Latin American Art, May 28, 2008, lot 25, illustrated in color; also illustrated in color on the cover
Private Collection, Coral Gables
Teresa Arcq, "In the Land of Convulsive Beauty", In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States, Los Angeles, 2012, (exhibition catalogue) no. 77, no. 52, illustrated in color; also discussed
Teresa Arcq, "A World Made of Magic", Leonora Carrington, The Celtic Surrealist, Dublin, 2014, (exhibition catalogue), p. 33, illustrated in color; also discussed
Once in Mexico, Carrington’s friendship with Remedios Varo, the Spanish Surrealist, led to a close relationship with her partner and poet Benjamin Péret, who compiled the volume Anthologie des mythes, légendes et contes populaires d' Amérique as well as the French translation of the Code of the Chilam Balam of Chumayel, one of nine books on Mayan spiritual beliefs. Carrington delved into the study of the magical world she discovered in Mexico’s ancestral traditions and their unexpected parallels to the Celtic world: death rituals, shamanic transformations and the belief in protective beings, the medicinal qualities of plants which she joyfully explored in the company of Varo and Hungarian photographer Kati Horna.
Carrington did not explain her paintings. While their obscure titles often make them more cryptic, they sometimes provide a key to her inner world. In The Juggler, the title clearly refers to the first card of the Tarot, the juggler or magician: a kind of superhuman with the power to create, connect heaven and earth, and the microcosm with the macrocosm. The juggler was also a common motif among the Surrealists, particularly women Surrealists.
While much of Carrington's work contains various sources and multiple layers of meaning, the present painting references the pre-Hispanic myth that corresponds to the figure of the minstrel in Mesoamerica: Quetzalcoatl, the Aztec god and archetype of the shaman. The name Quetzalcoatl means "feathered serpent" and represents the union of the conscious with the unconscious world. Quetzalcoatl is the white magician, connected to the earth through the way snake and sky through the feathers that allow him to fly.Carrington herself referred to this figure in her writings: "What induced the serpent to grow feathers? A nameless, unknown force operates in the soul, or a pre-form of life perhaps effects miracles, if miracles are allowed..."(1)
Carrington produced several plays for which she also designed their scenography and costumes, a practice that clearly influenced some of her works. In The Juggler, a brightly painted orange-red tent—a reference to pre-hispanic murals—serves as the background for an extraordinary representation: a shamanic transformation. Within this otherworldly image, Carrington presents a microcosm of the universe in the middle of a great forest and anchored by four circles symbolizing the four elements or the four cardinal points. The main figure in the composition wears a robe and a white turban. With feet firmly planted, he lifts his arms to hold the feathers of a snake wrapped around his body; this is the figure of a magician or a priest allowing God to emerge in animal form. To the right, a white and mysterious character emerges from a pyre of smoke. The painting also illustrates a reference to a famous myth where Quetzalcoatl is exiled to the city of Tula, instigated by the spells of Tezcaltipoca, the black magician, god of the night sky.
The Juggler is populated by hybrid creatures and animals engaged with tiny characters reminiscent of pre-Hispanic beliefs in nahualismo, the power to take an animal form to interact with humans. Representations of Nahuales are abundant in the codices that Carrington studied and knew so well. Some pre-Hispanic cultures also believed that every person is born with an animal spirit known as a "nagual" which guides and protects them during his/her life.
The Juggler belonged to the collection of Edward James, the British eccentric, friend and patron of the artist, whose trained eye allowed him to choose the best works of the painters he supported for himself, including Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. This picture represents Carrington’s worldview, her continued attempts at understanding the universe as a timeless space where everything is interconnected, where gods and humans share a mysterious existence with the animal and plant kingdoms through the synthesis of myths and legends.
 Leonora Carrington, “Female, Human Animal” en Leonora Carrington, Catálogo de la exposición, Dallas Museum of Art, 2007, p. 12.