Artist in Perspective: Remedios Varo

Remedios Varo Self Photograph

The Escape, Remedios Varo, Surrealist

useless science, alchemist, Remedios Varo, alchemy, mystical, surrealist

Remedios Varo, Caravan, surrealist, paintingSpanish surrealist painter Remedios Varo is one of my favourite artists of all time. I never get tired of looking at her paintings. You can usually tell when you’ve come across a Varo painting anywhere – there is a dreamlike, ephemeral and slightly disturbing quality to her paintings which are often filled with intriguing details and heavy with symbolism.That’s no surprise as Remedios herself was raised by a staunchly religious Catholic mother and an atheist father who helped develop her interest in science, philosophy, mysticism and art from a young age – two vastly different perspectives which eventually shaped her own outlook on life. (Although her mother insisted she enrolled into a convent school, Remedios eventually rebelled against Catholic tenets and embraced instead her father’s liberal and intellectual ideas.

Born in Girona, Spain, Remedios had always exhibited an interest in art and drawing, eventually moving to Madrid where she studied at the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy at the same time as Surrealism’s l’enfant terrible, Salvador Dali. It was also in Madrid that she was first introduced to the Surrealist movement which had expanded from Paris to Spain. She also mingled with other surrealist artists including Marcel Jean, Andre Breton, Oscar Dominguez and Esteban Frances, and was a part of the group of Surrealist artists known as the Logicofobista or the Logicophobists.

Remedios Varo, surrealism, Revelation of the Clockmaker

Remedios Varo, river source, surrealism

Remedios Varo, surrealism, painting, artist, Papilla Estelar

Remedios was married thrice and forced into exile twice, first from Spain (due to her opposition to the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War) and then from France, where she had settled with her second husband, French poet Benjamin Péret. The advent of WWII forced the pair to move to Mexico, a place which Remedios first regarded as a temporary haven. However, she ended up spending the rest of her life there with the exception of a temporary hiatus in Venezuela where her brother and mother had relocated. It was also in Mexico where Remedios mingled with other renown artists such as Frieda Kahlo, Diego Rivera and long-time friend Leonora Carrington and eventually met her third husband and most ardent supporter, the Austrian refugee Walter Gruen.

Remedios’s experience as a refugee has been an especially strong influence on her work with themes of traveling, isolation and loneliness. Her itinerant life has also made its impact felt in her paintings – looking at her work, one can see the influences of the various countries she has lived in, from the dark and more fantastic styles of fellow Spanish artists like Goya and El Greco (not to mention El Greco’s technique of elongating his figures till the point where they become almost otherworldly) to certain French touches such as the Madeline-esque schoolgirl blue smocks that appear in paintings like Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle, Towards the Tower, The Juggler and The Escape.

Femininity also played a large part in her work with plenty of slender, wide-eyed female characters, often in the style of the Enchantress or the Sorceress, peopling her paintings. These figures are often located in wide isolated areas or confined chambers, assumed by art historians and critics to be an allegory for the marginalisation Varos and other female painters felt in the male-dominated Surrealist movement, a movement in which she played a significant role yet never truly felt she was a part of. And yet, despite their isolation/confinement, Varos’ figures continually defy their circumstances and their environment, as did she. They are never depicted as apathetic and still; rather, they can be seen exploring pursuits of their own, wielding mysterious arcane machinery or driving fantastic travel contraptions.

It was in South America that Varo began to come into her own, reconnecting with her scientific leanings and fully developing the mystical and esoteric style she is most renown for. The financial and emotional support of her third husband, Gruen, allowed her to give up working and devote all her time to painting. Her solo exhibitions were well received and she appeared to be at the height of her career up to the point of her death from a heart attack at 55, prompting André Breton, the founder of the Surrealist movement, to call her, “the sorceress who left too soon.”

Remedios, surrealism, labyrinth, Varo Spiral Transit

Remedios Varo, surrealism, art, Embroidering the Earth's Mantle

Remedios Varo may have since left the earthly world but her work continue to fascinate and inspire. Her paintings are so rich with allegories and details, one can only imagine the stories and meanings that lie behind each piece. One can draw on so much inspiration from Remedios’s art and it’s something I have often done myself.

Who are your favourite artists and why? And writers, tell us which artists have influenced your work?

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