Every once in awhile, I like to write about not-so-well-known artists who were outstanding in their time, but stood at the edge of the spotlight rather than being at its center. REMEDIOS VARO (1908-1963) was such an artist. Born in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War she fled to Paris where she was one of the few women admitted to the surrealists’ inner circle. Fleeing the Nazi occupation of France, she moved to Mexico City at the end of 1941. Although she thought it a temporary exile at the time, she remained in Latin America for the rest of her life.
Contemporaries of Varo’s in Mexico City included Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Annette Nancarrow, but she was closest to other exiles and expats, most especially the English painter Leonora Carrington and the love of her life, French pilot and adventurer Jean Nicolle.
By the late 1940s, Varo had developed her signature surrealistic style (two examples shown)—complex, enigmatic, and allegorical, with a definite feminine character. She was passionate about alchemy, mysticism, and the occult, read widely on these topics, and her interests are reflected in her paintings. She worked primarily in oil on masonite boards she prepared herself, using fine, blended strokes to create an exquisite finish.
The artist’s work has been compared to that of Hieronymus Bosch and she was influenced also by the styles of Goya, El Greco, Picasso, and Braque, as were many artists of her time. In Mexico, she was also influenced by pre-Columbian art.
In every era there are the chosen few who are adored and applauded, who become celebrities, well known for their art and often their lifestyles. At the edge of that white, focused spotlight stand many others, often equally talented, whose work fades from memory and view because they did not have the star power. They contributed, too, often mightily, and I think it’s important to give them an encore performance.
For a terrific video about Remedios Varo and her work:
(Upper left, Papilla Estelar, oil on board 1958; left, Exploration of the Source of the Orinoco River 1959)
-- Rosemary Carstens