Great Art: An Aardvark Groomed by Widows by Leonora Carrington (Interpretation and Analysis)
October is the season of Halloween and all things spooky, including witches. Witches are a common theme in Western art, but their depiction has changed over time. To my mind, Leonora Carrington’s An Aardvark Groomed by Widows offers a modern interpretation of the theme of witchcraft in art (even though the piece has ostensibly nothing to do with witches at all).
The piece depicts a group of women dressed in black who are circled around a white aardvark in a bowl of water. As the title suggests, the women are washing and tending to the aardvark, who seems to be enjoying the attention. A faceless figure on the far left holds what seems to be a baby aardvark in its hands while a tiny figure in black sweeps the ground in the foreground of the painting. The background is an abstract wash of brown dotted with shadowy, indistinct animals and figures.
Ritual is a major theme in Carrington’s work, and it’s clear that the women in An Aardvark Groomed by Widows are engaged in a complex ceremonial act. Though these women are not labeled witches, the composition and visual language of the piece remind me of depictions of witches throughout the history of western art. Images of witchcraft traditionally include a group of women clustered around a symbol of magic, usually either a caldron or a goat, a symbol of the devil. However, the women in Carrington’s painting are gathered for a seemingly benign purpose. To my mind, An Aardvark Groomed by Widows offers a new vision of witchcraft, one that is centered around women supporting each other and working together. It is a positive vision of ritual, separate from the dark and mystical world of witchcraft.
British artist Leonora Carrington was a Surrealist artist who made her permanent home in Mexico after fleeing Europe during World War II. Carrington was a visionary, both literally and figuratively. She reported that she often had visions of ghosts and animals when she was a child; a fantastical influence that undoubtably impacted her adult work.
This can be seen in An Aardvark Groomed by Widows, a wonderfully weird masterpiece. While the exact meaning of the painting is unclear, Carrington’s work was often connected with her writing, suggesting that there is probably an equally fantastical narrative connected to An Aardvark Groomed by Widows. Regardless of the meaning, however, Aardvark Groomed by Widows is without a doubt a visionary piece of art.