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REVIEW: Surrealism and Witchcraft, LAMB Gallery

In the 1975 inaugural issue of the seminal French feminist journal Sorcières, founder Xavière Gauthier asked, “Why witches?”

Half a century later, 'Surrealism and Witchcraft' at London’s LAMB Gallery responds by tracing the witch’s presence through art history by exhibiting 19 works by 11 women artists channelling surrealism. 

Five gouaches (c. 1955) of witch hats by Leonora Carrington, designed by Leonor Fini, greet me on arrival. The hats levitate across a wall like sacred relics, suspended in delightful dialogue with an artist almost 100 years Carrington’s junior, Tali Lennox. The pairing is a testament to the witch’s kinship with generations of women artists, like an invisible thread intertwining past and present. Devotion (2023) embraces the irrational with what appears to be a heart-cum-sea-urchin, its eyes softly streaming with tears and its spiky head sparkling like a siren calling to Carrington’s hats. 

Left: Leonora Carrington, Chapeau casque antique - Carrington c. 1955. Image courtesy of private collection.

Middle: Leonora Carrington, Chapeau sport, c. 1955. Image courtesy of private collection.

Right: Leonora Carrington, Chapeau a la feuille et rose - Carrington c. 1955. Image courtesy of private collection.

Sophie von Hallermann’s Untitled (2023) and Harriet Gillett’s With the day comes the dawn (2023) flank the gallery’s middle. Von Hellermann’s broad-brushed washes imbue her canvases with a dream-like quality. Her figure, a woman in a red dress and a pack of dogs liberated in a lush green landscape, is summoned from her subconscious. Her unbridled figure juxtaposed with Gillet’s pensive woman swathed in cerebral pink, evoking the duality of the self, the dimensionality of woman.

Georg Wilson’s Gathering features an ambiguous folkloric figure flocked by birds, although whether friends or foes is unclear. For Surrealists, animals signal the mysterious and irrational. More animal than human, Wilson’s figure is accompanied by Paula Rego’s etchings from Girl With Goat’s Feet (2012), a series inspired by a 19th-century story whereby the devil in disguise plans to seduce and destroy a besotted man.

Left: Georg Wilson, The Gathering, 2023. 100x70cm, Oil on panel. Image courtesy the artist.

Middle: Paula Turmina Shadow (2023) Oil on canvas 160 x 120 cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Right: Nooka Sheperd Wyrd Night, 2023, oil on panel 79cmx80cm. Courtesy of the artist.

Historically vilified for her alleged immoral sexuality, capable of causing men impotence or, worse, castration, the witch was seen as a threat to phallocentric society. Which makes the divine flirtatiousness of Paula Turmina’s monoprints on sensuous velvet so thrilling. In Hold it Twice (2023), fiery, slender fingers court a serpent-like flower and beckon us towards sin. (The possibility that they belong to Rego’s devil incarnate isn’t lost on me.) I also imagine the witch in Ariane Hughes’ Foot phobic (but suck my toes) sending men into submission with her webbed feet, toppling the patriarchy with a flick of a curled toenail.

Alma Berrow’s Free of strife (2023) lays out a series of delicate ceramic tarot cards that nod to a once-lost series Carrington handpainted in 1955 – believed to be the same year Carrington made her witchy gouaches. The show concludes with Bea Bonafini’s Hear and Sulphur (2023), which, while referencing Chinese medicine and alchemy, respectively, here, they could be spirits summoned from the nearby trio of witches stirring a cauldron in Nooka Shepherd’s Wyrd Night (2023).

As revered as she is reviled, few figures have encapsulated the complexities of womanhood like the witch. That women artists working with Surrealist sensibilities would channel her majestic power is unsurprising – and 'Surrealism and Witchcraft' is a captivating glimpse of those who do.

'Surrealism and Witchcraft' is open until 20th December 2023.

Written by Ashleigh Kane, an editor, writer, curator, and consultant based in London. She is currently the Arts & Photography Editor-at-Large at Dazed. Ashleigh is particularly interested in writing about women and underrepresented artists, and is also working on a research project about rage titled 'All The Rage'.


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