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Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague

Surrealist artists often juxtaposed seemingly unrelated images in their writing and visual art. In Aphrodisiac Telephone, Salvador Dali challenges the viewer to reexamine what a telephone is by using a lobster as the handset.
Salvador Dali, Aphrodisiac Telephone, 1938, plastic, metal, William Hood Dunwoody Fund. ©Salvador Dali, Gala-Salvador Dali Foundation / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Surrealism was an international art movement. Born and trained in Minnesota, Gerome Kamrowski moved to New York City in 1938 and joined a group of American artists there who were strongly influenced by many of Surrealism's basic goals, such as exploring the unconscious to help free the creative imagination.
Gerome Kamrowski, The Competitive Lover, 1945, oil on canvas, John R. Van Derlip Fund


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A Non-Conforming "Surrealist"

Leonora Carrington (1917–2011) was born in England into a wealthy textile-manufacturing family that expected her to be presented at court and to marry well. But Carrington was a nonconformist. She rebelled against many ideas, including the notion that her brothers could get away with bad behavior, while she had to be good. Carrington was expelled from several convent schools for her refusal to follow the rules.

Carrington convinced her parents to send her to art school, first in Florence, later in Paris. It was there that she met the painter Max Ernst and, at age 19, they became romantically linked. Her father disowned her, and she gave up her life as a wealthy heiress.

Carrington and Ernst were part of a circle of artists called Surrealists. The Surrealists believed that dreams and the unconscious were superior forms of reality, hence the term sur-real. They often depicted strange juxtapositions in their art, like the people and giant insects in Dear Diary—Never Since We Left Prague. Many male Surrealists saw women not as artists in their own right, but as muses, or inspiration, for their art. Carrington resisted the idea of being a muse and pursued her own art.

Carrington and Ernst lived and worked together for three years until WWII interfered. When Ernst was arrested for being an enemy German in France, Carrington had a breakdown and ended up in a mental hospital in Spain. After her recovery, she immigrated to Mexico City in 1942. She met other artists, such as Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Remedios Varo, and Emerico "Chiki" Weisz, whom she later married.

Carrington refined her unique vision as an artist in Mexico. In her art, places where women were traditionally in charge, such as the kitchen and the nursery, were changed from places of female drudgery to those of power and transformation. Carrington added her own history, culture, and symbolism to the mix to create a body of artwork that did not conform to any category. Although art historians often categorize her as a Surrealist, Carrington did not identify herself as one.

May 2012