I’m currently reading “Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys” by Janet A. Kaplan, professor of art history and executive director of Art Journal. Few books have been written about Remedios Varo, and Kaplan’s work, published in 1988, is a thorough journey into the artist’s life and gorgeous, captivating artwork.
I first learned of Remedios Varo as an undergraduate in one of my Latin American art history courses. I promptly fell in love with the exquisite detail and storytelling element of her paintings. For a long time, Varo as a person remained a mystery to me…she was not discussed much in the course I took and I couldn’t find much of anything online or in the library about her. I even proposed writing my Honor’s thesis about Varo and fellow surrealist Leonora Carrington, and I was met with disinterest by anyone who could have been my thesis advisor! (Ah, the days before assertiveness.)
Born in Spain in 1908, Remedios Varo spent her childhood moving about the country with her family, as her father was an engineer and took on various projects in different regions. After fleeing the Spanish Civil War, she settled in Paris. There, she fully embraced the new Surrealism movement and experimented with dreamlike collages, drawings, and paintings – all while holding down a number of random jobs to stay afloat. With the onset of WWIII, she became one of many European refugees to be accepted into Mexico, where she lived the rest of her days, never to return to her mother country of Spain due to the Franco regime. It is in Mexico that her work truly blossomed and she gained most of her recognition. By this time she had also married, separated, and had a number of love affairs – something very different and daring at the time.
I love two things the most about Varo’s work. First, she uses mathematical precision in her layouts and techniques. It is mind-boggling the amount of time and energy spent on each painting. Second, her stories are fantastical, wonderful, and imaginative. She imagines a completely different world and places the human being amidst it. I dream of seeing her work in person, and until that day I can flip through the pages of Kaplan’s work to become immersed in the details and stories of Varo’s work.