Featured Art: “Cazadora de Astros” – Remedios Varo
Varo was literally an emigre in life and in her art. Her self-portrait characters are not exact replicas–they are abstracted from her own features. The situations they exist in are also abstracted from reality and from fantasy. As Janet Kaplan says in Unexpected Journeys… “Like an actress taking on roles, Varo consistently used these self-portait characters as a way to explore alternative identities, both personal and universal, in a style that quickly became her signature.” Her work is narratively oriented, and the narrative concerns metamorphosis–metamorphosis within a frame of dynamics concerning freedom and control, independence versus rootedness and continuity. A female quest for independence appears to be the theme for Varo.
In Cazadora de Astros, 1956, a huntress captures the moon, a symbol of female consciousness, yet the huntress herself is an archetypal female symbol. The interplay between power and powerlessness, between feminine assertion and feminine submission, is unclear in this image. Or should we see it as a dualistic image which unites both poles of the duality, resolving the dialectic as the moon, the more inituitive part of the woman’s consciousness becomes synthesized with the rational and cognitive part, making this into the ultimate image of a female artist?
Remedios Varo Uranga was born December 16, 1908 and died at the height of her career on October 8, 1963. Remedios was born in Spain, where she studied art, she spent a year in Paris where she was greatly influenced by the surrealist movement. She moved back to Spain and married her second husband, a surrealist poet Benjamin Péret (the first was Gerardo Lizarraga, a painter, whom it was discovered after her death, she never divorced). She returned to Paris fleeing the Spanish Civil War. Here she met the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington who became her life long friend. The search for self can be seen to be a spiritual quest, and spirituality does seem to be a pervasive theme in the works of these artists. It is the spirituality of hermetic or occult traditions such as alchemy – a metamorphic, transformative process which distills the cosmic and the spiritual from the impure, which Varo explores – as does Carrington, so alchemy becomes a link, visually and ideologically, between them. Remedios fled to Mexico during the occupation of Paris. In Mexico she met native artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, but her strongest ties were with the English painter Leonora Carrington whom she reunited with in Mexico and a French pilot and adventurer Jean Nicolie. Her third important relationship was to Walter Gruen, an Austrian who had endured concentration camps before escaping Europe. Gruen believed fiercely in Varo and gave her the support that allowed her to fully concentrate on her paintings. Remedios remained in Mexico for the rest of her life. In Mexico, she did not immediately paint: she was a commercial artist, a furniture designer, a stage set designer and restored pottery
Varo is an understudied artist, infrequently included in exhibitions. I accidentally came across her when I went to L.A.C.M.A. to see an exhibition called “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States”.
Here are some links for more info on this extraordinary artist…