Read what Ana Brdar has to say about The Powerful Message Behind Remedios Varo’s Surrealist Art.
The Mexican-Spanish painter Remedios Varo is arguably one of the most intriguing figures in the Surrealist art movement of the 20th century. Born in the small Spanish town of Angles, Varo went on to study art at San Fernando Fine Arts Academy, where she was first introduced to Surrealist movement. Once the Spanish Civil War broke out, Varo moved to Paris with Benjamin Péret, a Surrealist poet and Varo’s partner at the time. It was there she was able to connect with other great artists of the movement, such as Max Ernst and Wolfgang Paalen. During this time, she also exhibited at the 1938 International Surrealism Exposition. However, soon after her move to France, World War II started and Varo was once again forced to flee, this time to Mexico. She would remain in South America until her death in 1963 – at the peak of her career.
Varo’s body of work is incredibly varied. However, her mature, signature style usually features mythical creatures, auto-biographical motifs and ominous, distorted perspective. One of the most striking aspects of Varo’s paintings is found in her portrayals of women – or more precisely herself, as figures presented in her work often resemble her own appearance, with heart-shaped faces, aquiline noses and large eyes. Moreover, the way she painted her female characters could also be read as a statement on women’s marginalized position within art movements. In regards to Surrealism, women as artists were often deemed inferior to their male counterparts. On canvas, the illustration of female entity was inherently dictated by the way it was perceived by men – either as the ideal vision of beauty and purity on one end, or as a disturbing, threatening figure on the other.
In contrast, the feminine figures that occupy Varo’s artistic space possess their own individual identity. They are often seen involved in science and exploration, a setting which reinvents them as active, inquisitive subjects. However, they can also frequently be seen in confined, solitary places. One of such paintings is Mimesis (Mimetismo), which depicts a woman bound to an armchair as her hands and feet slowly morph into the material and shape of the furniture. This powerful image of a female figure blending into the environment can be interpreted as Varo’s commentary on the position of women in domesticated spaces. Much like the definition of the title suggests, a woman must perform mimicry and adapt to her immediate surroundings in other to protect herself and survive in her domestic isolation.
Through her work, Varo was able to explore and put on canvas a different representation of the Surrealist woman. This is was in part because of her move to Mexico, where she was able to grow and liberate herself from the constraints established by the European Surrealist movement. It was there where her work was at its best and where she was truly recognized as an independent artist. Unfortunately, Varo’s art remains largely unknown outside of Mexico, but her contribution to the movement is of tremendous value and undeniably deserves further recognition.
Featured image: Valley of the Moon
Image in text: Mimesis