Blind Contour Drawing #6 – “Meeting” Remedios Varo 1959
Even though she died before it began, I feel that Remedios Varo was a pioneer to the Feminist art movement that began in the late 1960’s.
Remedios Varo whose full name was María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga was born in the town of Anglès in Girona, Spain. She was encouraged by her family to pursue art from an early age and when the family moved to Madrid she attended the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando at the age of fifteen. At the Academy, she worked with other great Spanish painters like Salvador Dalí.
She married one of her classmates, Gerardo Lizárraga and the two left to live in Paris in 1931. They returned after a year and moved to Barcelona where they began working in advertising.
In 1935, the couple separated and she joined a group of Surrealists artists. She began to develop her own style and felt more aligned to a group known as ‘Logicofobista’, whose aim was to represent the mental state of the internal soul in a Surrealist style. She created her painting ‘L´Agent Double’ (Double Agent), a painting that defined her style.
At the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, her opposition to the Fascists led her to meet the French poet Benjamin Péret who she married in 1937. The couple fled to Paris in 1937 where she immersed herself in the Surrealist scene. In 1938, Varo displayed her piece, ‘Il est tard’ (He is late), at the International Surrealism Exposition.
In 1941, when the Nazis invaded France, they fled to Mexico. They initially thought that they would only stay in there during the war but she spent most of the rest of her life there. Péret returned to Paris in 1947 and Varo continued to support herself as an advertising artist in Venezuela. She returned to Mexico and met Austrian politician Walter Gruen, with whom she would spend the rest of her life. He convinced her to give up drawing and to dedicate herself instead to painting.
Varo’s work was extremely varied but by 1949, she had discovered her mature style of painting. She often used oil paints on masonite panels and she used very fine, over-lapping brushstrokes. Her paintings were inspired by personal childhood memories. Her work was highly mystical but she often included scientific iconography in her work.
Varo surrounded herself with a group of likeminded women like Leonora Carrington and Kati Horna who were also interested in alchemy and the occult. The three, sometimes referred to as ‘the three witches,’ focussed on achieving a higher spiritual life and were sensitive to feminine consciousness. They were determined to fight for the freedom of women from repressive patriarchal hierarchies and Varo repeated motifs of the cage and the tower in her work to illustrate the struggle. Their relationship was also important as it reflected the need for female artists to create supportive networks.
In 1955, Varo presented some of her work at a collective exhibition at the Diana Gallery in Mexico, and the following year she held a solo exhibition. During her time in Mexico, she also met famous native Mexican artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In 1963 she died of a heart attack in Mexico.
It was not until the last 13 years of her life, finally free of ongoing financial constraints that she was able to paint prolifically.
Quote: “I do not wish to talk about myself because I hold very deeply the belief that what is important is the work, not the person.”
Born 1908 Anglès, Spain
Died 1963 Mexico