I love learning new things and I’ve found children’s books a rich resource for providing glimpses into times, places and people I hadn’t been previously aware of. Today, Friend Friday is shining the spotlight on Michelle Markel and her wonderful picture book, Out of this World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington (HarperCollins). I was not aware of Leonora Carrington’s work and, with illustrator, Amanda Hall, Michelle has given us a tantalizing introduction to this artist and the context in which she was creating her work. And lucky us! Michelle has generously agreed to give away a copy of her new book! Click on this Rafflecopter link and follow the instructions to be entered in the giveaway!
It’s my pleasure to share some background on my latest book: OUT OF THIS WORLD: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington. (HarperCollins)
OUT OF THIS WORLD was born inside THE FANTASTIC JUNGLES OF HENRI ROUSSEAU, illustrated by Amanda Hall. Amanda and I felt so cosmicly matched for the Rousseau book, that we wanted to collaborate on another project. This would be risky, since publishers typically choose illustrators for author-driven picture books.
In 2012, I visited an exhibit of women surrealist artists at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. When I saw Leonora Carrington’s pictures, I was instantly hooked.
Leonora’s jewel colored paintings are like enchantments – like vivid moments in a supernatural tale. Her characters include a golden haired giantess towering over a forest, women whose heads sprout trees, and spirits who float alongside magical beasts. Leonora’s artwork speaks to me because I’ve always loved fairy tales- their marvelous imagery and transformational journeys, and how they convey emotional truths. I also love the powerful role that women play in Leonora’s dreamy pictures.
Who was Leonora Carrington? Why did she make those striking images? I did exploratory research. Born to wealthy parents, she was sent to – and expelled from – several private schools. After being presented at court to attract a rich suitor, she instead ran off to Paris to pursue an art career. Along with other endangered artists, Leonora fled Europe during World War II, and ended up in Mexico, where she lived for the rest of her life. With its themes of rebellion, women’s rights, and creativity, I believed her story would make an engaging picture book biography.
Amanda and I discussed the project when I visited her home in Cambridge in 2013. The next step was to dig deeper – largely at UCLA’s art library, and at the J. Paul Getty Museum – 30 minutes from my home. I read Leonora’s interviews and her stories (she wrote wickedly funny surreal fiction). I looked for her influences and inspirations (the biographies I read as a child never explained WHY artists painted the way they did!). To help me build historical setting in the text, I researched the Downton Abbey era, the surrealist gatherings in Paris, the expat artist community in Mexico. I enjoyed reading about the friendship of Leonora and Remedios Varo- another creative rebel. The two of them reminded me of highly imaginative young girls- they loved fantastic stories, dressing in costume and inventing their own magic spells. I appreciated their sisterhood and feminism- at a time when the art world was competitive and dominated by men.
When I finished the text, Amanda made sketches and a few paintings- as lyrical and luminous as I knew they’d be. We faced challenges in submitting this as a joint project, but we persevered, and held our breath. It was a joy when Balzer & Bray acquired OUT OF THIS WORLD. This year our dream has become a book! I hope Leonora inspires children to pursue their goals, no matter what obstacles stand in their way.
Michelle Markel is the author of several acclaimed picture books, including The Fantastic Jungles of Henri Rousseau, winner of the PEN Steven Kroll Picture Book Writing Award, Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (winner of the Jane Addams Flora Stieglitz Award and an Orbis Pictus Honor), and Balderdash: John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books. Her latest book is Out of This World: The Surreal Art of Leonora Carrington. Michelle gives lectures, workshops and school presentations, and is a founding member of the Children’s Authors Network. Her home is in Woodland Hills, California. To learn more visit her website.
I love that Balzar + Bray took a chance on both the artistic team and publishing a book about an unknown artist. We need more of those stories.