My stepdaughter recently wrote me while vacationing in Mexico and mentioned that she had encountered the work of an artist I might like, if I was not already familiar with her, named Remedios Varo.
As it happens, I was not familiar with Varo, and on investigating (bless the internet’s glowing electronic heart) I’m genuinely surprised to say that.
Varo is the kind of artist I would have sought out years ago in my teenage fascination with Surrealism and Magic Realism, and I immediately saw in her work a source of inspiration for a number of contemporary magic realists, not to mention other areas in which pop culture may bear her influence.
Remedios Varo (María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga) was originally from Madrid. In her frequent visits to the Prado, she recounts an early fascination with Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights.
Through a series of associations, friendships and marriage, she fell in with likeminded artists and eventually became part of the original Surrealist circle in Paris. However, like other female Surrealist artists (see my posts on Dorothea Tanning), Varo was dismissed as inconsequential by her male counterparts in the movement (who were not known for being open minded and egalitarian, particularly in their relegation of women to the role of “muses”).
Though there is indication that she felt the influence of another Spanish Surrealist, Dalí, to some degree, Varo’s work is more closely related to Greek proto-Surrealist Giorgio de Chirico, and Surrealist artists like Paul Delveaux and Max Ernst. However, her style is uniquely her own and retains much of her early fascination with Medieval and early Renaissance art.
As the Germans invaded Paris and the Surrealist circle scattered, Varo fled to Mexico, intending to find temporary refuge but eventually settling permanently. There she encountered Mexican artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, as well as expatriates from Europe and England.
Varo’s style is unusual in that her oil paintings, usually on prepared masonite panels, were done in a technique of short, layered strokes, more in keeping with tempera than the normal approach to oil. The result is a fascinating textural quality, giving her work a very different feeling than it might have otherwise.
Her enigmatic images feel ripe with suggestion and emotional nuance — part allegory, part dream — with many repeated themes, as though portraying stories from a private mythology.
Her titles add to the richness of her images, for example “Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle” (above, top, with detail) and “Star Catcher” (third down, which I am now convinced was at least partial inspiration for Jean (“Moebius”) Giraud’s iconic “Starwatcher“).
There are a couple of books about or related to Varo currently in print: Remedios Varo: The Mexican Years and Surreal Friends. There are others like Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys, that you may be able to find used.
The best source for her images that I have been able to find online is the gallery on WikiPaintings.