In the 1950s and ’60s, he portrayed women, artists and thinkers in intricate dream canvases, which now fetch high prices.
This article is part of The Unseen, a series of tributes about notable people whose deaths, beginning in 1851, were not reported in The Times.
In the opening of Thomas Pynchon’s postmodern novel “The Crying of Lot 49” (1965), tears flow down the face of her protagonist, Oedipa Maas, as she takes on “a surrealist painting of several vulnerable girls with heart-shaped faces”. Huh. ” who appear to be “prisoners in the top chamber of the circular tower.” The girls are embroidering a kind of tapestry that juts out from the windows.
In elaborately detailed, often allegorical paintings, Varo is depicted. convent schoolgirls embark on strange adventures; bisexual, ascetic figures engaged in scientific, musical or artistic pursuits; And Lonely The women – some of whom look like skinny, kill Varo themselves – have an excellent experience. His style was reminiscent of Renaissance art in its exquisite precision, but his dream-like paintings were in another tone.
Those works often share a common theme: the quest to reach a higher state of consciousness.
Art historian Janet A. Kaplan suggests in his biography, “The Unexpected Journey: The Art and Life of Remedios Varro” (1988), that much of Varro’s strength came from his strength as a storyteller. “Their engaging characters and settings were designed to draw viewers into their curious narratives,” she wrote.
Although Varo was successful in his lifetime, now, almost 60 years after his death, the fame of this mysterious artist is reaching its peak. In June 2020, Varo’s 1956 painting “Harmony (Suggestive Self-Portrait)” sold at Sotheby’s for $6.2 million, which, according to Sotheby’s, is the second highest price for a female Latin American artist to date. (A painting by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo sold for $8 million in 2016.)
María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga was born on December 16, 1908 in Angles, a small town in northeastern Spain. His father, Rodrigo Varo y Zejalvo, a hydraulic engineer, taught him mechanical drawing and encouraged his interest in the arts and sciences. His mother, Ignacia Uranga y Burgareche, a devoted Roman Catholic from the Basque region, named Maria for the Virgin of Remedies (Virgin Mary), and to an older sister who died before Varo’s birth.
At age 8, after her family moved to Madrid, Maria was sent to a strict Catholic school for girls, where she ran into adventure books by Jules Verne and Alexandre Dumas. Rigorous school routines – prayer sessions, confessions, group sewing and the like – influenced the subject matter of some of her most famous works (“Embroiding Earth’s Mantle,” the second panel of a triptych, being will do. Only one).
Varo made his first painting at the age of 12. A sketchbook of portraits of members of her family showed her skill at capturing a resemblance. At the age of 15, he was accepted to enroll at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando in Madrid, where both Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali had studied. He graduated in 1930.
Over the next decade she lived between Paris and Barcelona, where she moved into bohemian, avant-garde and surrealist circles. By 1937 his work began to appear in Surrealist publications, then in international exhibitions in London, Tokyo, Paris, Amsterdam and Mexico City.
After the German occupation of Paris in June 1940, she fled to the south of France with her fellow French surrealist poet at the time. benjamin peretta, arrived in Marseille, where other artists and intellectuals had convened. The couple eventually traveled to Casablanca in Morocco, and later boarded a crowded Portuguese ocean liner bound for Mexico, where they were accepted as political refugees.
The experience of fleeing was reflected in the paintings of the Waro people – sailing in precarious boats, wandering through forests, cycling through the city or descending steps – all wearing contemplative expressions.
“Like other artists who have had to live and create under pressure, I find their pictorial language to be very rich and full of mythology and symbolism,” said Emmanuel Di Donna, an art dealer who wrote his 2019 show “Surrealism in Mexico”. In included the work of Varro. Said in a phone interview.
Except for a year in Venezuela, Varo will remain in Mexico for the rest of her life.
He produced his best work in Mexico City in the 1950s and early 60s – fantasy, haunting, personal and allegorical. There he formed a group of exiled artist friends, including a Hungarian surrealist photographer. Kati HornAustrian surrealist artist Wolfgang Palen and the British Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, with whom he found harmony and shared ideas.
“Vero and Carrington would see each other almost every day, either to go to the market in the middle of the day or later in the evening for dinner, and they would discuss what they were working on,” says Wendy Norris. Said, who organized “Indelible Fables,” a solo exhibition of Varro’s work at the San Francisco Gallery in 2012. “I believe a lot of his fiction was born out of these conversations he had.”
Norris said that the two often worked through similar ideas – parsing the psychoanalyst’s theories. Carl Jung and mystic philosopher George Gurdjieff And PD Ouspensky – but they will reveal them in different ways. While Carrington was independent in his painting, Varro was precise.
“Her precision — the single hair brushstrokes and the way she was thinning the paint to achieve the glossy layered effect — is beyond excellent,” Norris said over the phone.
Varro was interested in proportion and scale, as was her father, and she carefully drafted early sketches. Sometimes it took him months to complete a small painting.
“She was very intentional,” Norris said, “and, in a way, patient.”
Varo attended consciousness-raising workshops based on Gurdjieff’s teachings, an experience that allowed her to tap into her deepest imagination, said tere arc, an independent curator who assembled a 2008 centenary retrospective of Varro’s work for the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico City. Arkak said that workshop participants could focus on an inanimate object like a wooden chair for up to six hours straight, focusing on the life that exists within the object. For example, the wood of the chair came from a tree, and the tree was once alive.
Varo, by then well into his 40s, had made his breakthrough in 1955 with a group exhibition that featured paintings relating to the subconscious, the mystical and the spiritual; In many, the hero resembled Varo.
Arkak stated in an interview that he was interested in the tarot, astrology and alchemy, which he balanced with a lifelong love of science, particularly geology. Varro’s work combined these interests.
“She was trying to find the difference between the mysterious and the scientific,” Arch said.
In the painting of Varo “harmony” (1956), a man (it could be a man or a woman) sits at a desk in a cave room, threading objects such as paper scraps of crystals, plants, geometric figures and mathematical formulas onto a musical staff which Looks like an abacus or a loom. Musk-like figures seem to emerge from the walls. The man, Varo wrote in a note addressed to his family, “is trying to find that invisible thread that unites all things.”
By this time she was living with Walter Gruen, the exiled Austrian owner of a popular classical music record shop. He believed in Varro’s talent and encouraged him to devote himself to painting wholeheartedly.
Varro’s first major solo exhibition was in Mexico City in 1956. It was a hit among critics and collectors, as well as the famous Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, who was quoted as saying that Varo was “one of the most important female artists in the world.” Her second solo show in 1962 was also a success. Stayed.
Varo died of a heart attack on October 8, 1963. She was 54 years old. Gruen became a tireless champion of his work and legacy, and a 1971 posthumous retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in Mexico drew crowds.
The value of Varo’s work has increased in recent years, in no small part due to its rarity, quality and captivating imagery.
“It has a magical effect,” Norris said. “His work has a sparkle and a light, as you see in a great Renaissance painting.”