My mother calls it re-entry–coming home after being in Europe or elsewhere. Your clock is off by eight or nine hours, so your waking world feels more like dreaming and your dream world is vivid. In fact, for a week after arriving home from Ireland and Britain, I felt more awake in my dreams than I did in my life. I dreamt of art and plays and the sort of world I’d been immersed in, and that liminal space between sleep and waking was a space in which my remembered dreams merged with the texture of those places I’d seen through new eyes, being a foreigner, one who walked through a door and into another world.
Alice in Wonderland comes to mind here. How could she not with her archetypal journey into strangeness? A number of real life Alices come to mind too, among them the women surrealists Dorthea Tanning and Leonora Carrington. At the time, in the 1930s, these women were breaking out of the role of muse they were cast in by the male artists, and they were forging new ground. They were early feminists; their conviction in their visions and their work was steadfast, even as the male surrealists considered themselves the only true members of the group.
I happened across the women’s paintings in Roland Penrose’s collection, housed in the Tate Modern, and I was entranced. Did the fact of their being outsiders to the group make their work all the more striking to me? Did they speak to me because I am a woman? Or were they simply great artists, regardless of gender?
I’ll go with the latter.
Here’s a sample of their work...
Dorothea Tanning 1910-2012
Born and worked USA
“‘I just wanted to paint a white and grey picture that would still have color in its veins as we have blood under our winter-white skin,’ Tanning wrote of this work.”
Leonora Carrington 1917-2011 Born Britain, worked Mexico “Eluhim, the title of this work, is the Hebrew word for ‘God’ or ‘gods’.” Tate Modern