DECEMBER 16, ON THIS DAY
“Everything that she did or undid, however disparate that looked to an observer with prejudices, was done for what should be done, that is, with courage and without fear of consequences.”
Remedios Varo is a surrealist painter best known for her paintings of lanky, heart-faced people with big eyes and untamed hair. Varo\’s style is distinct in that she typically painted with oil on masonite panels that had been prepared, using a method of short, layered strokes that is more akin to tempera than the conventional way to paint with oil. Despite the criticism of her childhood religion, Catholicism, religion impacted Varo\’s creativity. She distinguished herself from other Surrealists by incorporating religion into her work on a regular basis. She also drew inspiration from a variety of hermetic and mystic traditions, both Western and non-Western.
Mara de Los Remedios Varo y Uranga was born in Angles, Girona, Spain on December 16, 1908. Varo was influenced during her childhood in Spain by her engineer father, who taught her to draw, and her rigid Catholic schooling, which she rebelled against. Remedios created her very first piece of art in 1923 while she was a student at the Madrid School of Arts. She painted both her own and her family\’s portraits. She enrolled in the San Fernando Fine Arts Academy, the top art institution in Madrid, in 1924, and received her diploma as a drawing teacher in 1930.
Varo was a political refugee for most of her adult life. During the Spanish Civil War, she left her native Spain for Paris but was unable to return because of her political connections. After Germany occupied Paris in 1940, she later left the city. She managed to flee and ended up living the rest of her life in Mexico. Varo had odd jobs after relocating to Mexico to support herself, such as sewing, pottery restoration, generating commercials for pharmaceuticals, and producing technical drawings for the Ministry of Public Health. Despite being commercial, she was able to refine her style through this employment. Her creative career flourished there, and in 1955 she held her first solo exhibition in Mexico City with Diego Rivera\’s backing.
She had a distinctive artistic style that some people found frightening. She included surprising juxtapositions and the element of surprise in her artwork. Her singularly surrealist style perfectly portrayed the entrapment of a genuine lady in the 20th century. She employed isolated, mystical, and scientifically inclined characters. Her father\’s early passion for science served as a major inspiration for this. She included fantasy and the idea of magic in her work. She portrayed androgynous people who resembled her physically. She frequently uses facial characteristics in her artwork that are a reflection of her own features, such as big eyes, an aquiline nose, and heart-shaped faces.
Autobiographical characters that appeared to be held by enigmatic forces were also used in the artwork. Due to the male surrealist artists\’ superiority complex being exposed, this was a response to how marginalized women were in the art world. Her works frequently feature legendary animals, alchemy, hazy swirls, and futuristic vehicles with sails, gears, and transmissions that can go via land, air, and water. Her distinctive style emphasizes passivity, introspection, instability, and symbolism. If one examines her artwork closely enough, one may see and recognize this extraordinary imagination.
She is renowned for her intriguing paintings of androgynous people engaging in magic or the occult. At the height of her career, Remedios Varo passed away in 1963 after having a deadly heart attack. Varo\’s work has a rich cultural history, which reflects her popularity outside of the art community and with the general population. The celebrated Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos composed a poetic eulogy for the artist, and the Nobel Prize–winning poet Octavio Paz also devoted verses to her. Varo\’s Embroidering the Earth\’s Mantle serves as a major source of inspiration for Thomas Pynchon\’s 1965 book The Crying of Lot 49. The Bedtime Story music video by pop artist Madonna from 1995 was inspired by Varo\’s The Lovers, along with works of art by Frida Kahlo, Leonora Carrington, and René Magritte.