A Q&A with renowned nonfiction picture book author Michelle Markel.
Q & A with Michelle Markel, author of Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington (2019)
Q: What were the highlights of writing this book?
1. Visiting “In Wonderland,” the exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art that included not only works by Leonora, but also by Remedios Varo, Frida Kahlo, and other marvelous female surrealist artists. So refreshing to see art from a woman’s point of view.
2. Visiting illustrator Amanda Hall at her home in Cambridge, England, and conceiving of this book. (Out of This World was submitted as a joint project, very unorthodox).
3. Visiting the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where there’s a reconstructed wall from the apartment of Andre Breton (leader of the surrealists). It includes works of art and other objects that he believed had special powers.
Q: What are some of your favorite images by Leonora?
A giantess with a childish face, framed by a mop of golden hair, wearing a cape with geese flying out of it (“The Giantess”). A woman with a tree branching from her head (“The House Opposite”). I love the hyena tiptoeing up to her hand in “Self Portrait.” There’s a sweetness in the way she depicts birds and other animals, whom she felt close to.
Q: How might children connect with this story?
This is the story of a woman born in the Downton Abbey era. (Her wealthy family, though not aristocratic, had ten servants, a nanny and chauffeur.) Leonora was supposed to marry rich and settle down, but instead ran off to be an artist in France, and then Mexico. I think kids would relate to her rebelliousness. She did not like being told what to do—like being forced to write with her right hand, though she preferred writing with her left, backwards! She was attracted to the style of the surrealists, who didn’t like rules either. In fact, they enjoyed breaking them, by creating absurd, impossible pictures.
Q: What do you hope kids will take away from this book?
I’d like them to know that it was not always acceptable for a woman to be an artist—and that everyone should have the right to pursue their dreams. Another takeaway from this book is that making art can be a spiritual experience.
Q: Leonora’s birthday is April 6. Where’s a good place to celebrate?
Leonora loved making strange concoctions (she mixed squid ink with tapioca, called it caviar, and served it to Octavio Paz.) So I’d celebrate Leonora at a restaurant where “dining is art.” I’ve never been to Vespertine in Los Angeles but the chef makes divine miniature sculptures out of mysterious ingredients. Sounds perfect!