Samhain Skin 1975

Leonora Carrington, Samhain Skin, 1975; Wallace and Wilhelmina Holladay;  © 2012 Leonora Carrington / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington painted narrative scenes inhabited by mysterious people and spirits participating in curious rituals. Samhain Skin references the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain, held on October 31 to celebrate summer’s end. Painting on an actual animal skin, Carrington presents animals, human hybrids, and reverse-handwritten references to tribes and deities from Gaelic history. The imagery also alludes to the Sidhe, fairy people from whom Carrington’s grandmother claimed their family had descended. Carrington intended her complex, densely layered images to be pondered—but not necessarily decoded—by the curious viewer.

Living in Paris between the world wars, Carrington became an active member of the Surrealist group of artists that included her partner, German artist Max Ernst, and Spanish artist Remedios Varo, who became one of Carrington’s closest friends. After Carrington and Varo both moved to Mexico during World War II, they used their kitchens to explore occult and alchemical practices, working with ingredients found in the local markets, such as the garlic depicted atop the creatures at the edges of Samhain Skin.