Urgent Museum Notice

Surrealist Spotlight: Remedios Varo

Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
Rendered with precise brushwork, a tall, thin figure strides forward wearing flowing, orange garments emanating a misty golden aura. Her fiery red hair stretches heavenward, encircling a celestial orb. Figures appear encased in the walls of the concave structure surrounding her.

Within fraught and mysterious settings, Remedios Varo’s fantastical protagonists seem to undertake quests through time or space, as in two recent additions to NMWA’s collection, La llamada (The Call) (1961) and Tejido espacio-tiempo (Weaving of Space and Time) (1954), gifts from a private collection.

Varo (1908–1963) was born María de los Remedios Varo y Uranga in Anglès, Spain, and her life was profoundly shaped by the political and artistic movements of her time. Varo lived an artistic, nontraditional life of creativity and romantic liaisons—during the years leading up to the Spanish Civil War, she spent time in Paris and Barcelona allying herself with Surrealists and creating experimental art. As World War II threatened Paris, Varo fled the city, making her way to Marseilles, and by late 1941 she had secured passage to Mexico.

In Mexico, Varo’s group of friends comprised many refugees from her European Surrealist circle, including artist Leonora Carrington, who became her closest friend and creative collaborator.

In the late 1940s, as she supported herself through commercial illustration work, Varo began to develop the mature personal style for which she is best known.

Weaving of Space and Time shows a couple in a spare domestic setting. Beneath their robes, the figures’ bodies appear to be constructed of turning wheels and gears. In The Call, a woman in flowing robes, who seems to derive energy from a celestial source, traverses a castle courtyard carrying alchemical tools, including a mortar and pestle at her collar.

Remedios Varo, Tejido espacia-tiempo (Weaving of Space and Time), 1954; Oil on Masonite, 26 x 21 1/4 in.; Gift from Private Collection

These paintings exemplify Varo’s characteristic color palette—figures illuminated in fiery orange-gold tones are set against shadowy blue-green-brown surroundings. Precise lines reveal unexpected details, such as those of the castle walls in The Call, which seem to entomb figures in tree bark. The woven-reed surroundings of Weaving of Space and Time contain ghostly echoes of the central image, such as the flowers that appear along the strand intersecting the flower held by the man.

varo the call
Remedios Varo, La llamada (The Call), 1961; Oil on Masonite, 39 1/2 x 26 3/4 in.; Gift from Private Collection

Scholars have noted that Varo’s own features, particularly her large eyes and long, straight nose, reappear in the faces of her protagonists, emphasizing the importance she placed on her perspective as a woman. However, they are not direct self-portraits—they are frequently androgynous or not-quite-human alter egos, with witty and delicate features of fauna or otherworldly creatures.

Varo’s characters share a sense of solemn preoccupation, as though in the midst of momentous adventures or visions. With a life philosophy of non-conformity and a personal story marked by dislocation and tumult, Varo continued her quest through her art. Her immediate and personal work reveals a universe where dreams reign and power is shared between science and magic.

Related Posts

  • Women to Watch 2020: Julia Goodman

    Posted: Nov 30, 2020 in Artist Spotlight
    Artist Julia Goodman talks about her process and work, which is featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    An oblique view of two side-by-side sheets made of pulp, one black and one pale pink. They both have raised surface patterns in the shapes of moon phases. Red paint on the back of the sheets reflects a sliver of color on the walls.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Women to Watch 2020: Angela Glajcar

    Posted: Nov 25, 2020 in Artist Spotlight
    Learn about German artist Angela Glajcar's process and work, which is featured in Paper Routes, the latest installment of NMWA's Women to Watch exhibition series.
    Panels of white paper hung together to look like a long rectangular box suspended from the ceiling a few feet off the ground. Roughly torn holes in the middle of the sheets create a tunnel-like space.
    Blog Category:  Artist Spotlight
  • Director’s Desk: A Recipe for Deeper Connections

    Posted: Nov 23, 2020 in Director's Desk
    This holiday season, when many families will not gather in person during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, NMWA's new online exhibition RECLAMATION offers us a way to honor and share our food traditions from afar.
    An antique sepia photo portrait of a light-skinned woman with brown hair staring longingly at the camera.
    Blog Category:  Director's Desk