18 November 2005

Remedios Varo

I am not an art historian by any means, but I've spent enough time in museums that I tend to recognize the names of artists associated with major movements such as surrealism. I was surprised, then, when Chris Barzak told me a certain surrealist had had an influence on his writing, because the name was new to me: Remedios Varo.
Creation of the Birds
Chris recommended Janet Kaplan's biography Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo, but I haven't yet been able to get hold of a copy, so I have relied on a few Internet resources to educate myself, including a collection of images, a detailed chronology of her life, an article about an exhibition, and this essay about Varo's scientific influences.

Varo grew up in Spain, lived in Paris, and eventually settled in Mexico after spending time in a Nazi internment camp after the occupation of France. She associated with various members of the artistic and literary avant-gardes wherever she lived, and specifically identified herself with the surrealists.
Varo's technique is continually described as "meticulous" -- she tended to like miniatures, and her approach is said to be closer to that used for egg tempera than for oil painting. Most of her work seems to have the kind of vehemently pictorial surface common to the most popular surrealists, but many of the paintings also remind me of medieval and Northern Renaissance images in some of their shapes and approach to perspective.

Some of Varo's paintings come awfully close to a sort of kitschiness that I associate with some of Dali's work, but few of Varo's paintings seem to me to descend quite to the same level of camp, because there is a naivety to her work that is quite charming, as well as a sense of humor (I particularly like her vegetarian vampires).