November 09, 2005


It’s quite likely that I first encountered the name Remedios Varo upon reading Thomas Pynchon’s novel The Crying of Lot 49 some sixteen or seventeen years ago. But I can’t pretend that this detail lodged in my memory, and when I began happening upon Varo’s name more recently, it was as if for the first time. Even though these notices excited my interest, I neglected to explore her work at greater length until a month or two ago, when, in the post-script of an e-mail, Bill, co-proprietor of the excellent weblog Orbis Quintus, asked me what I thought of her work: I had to reply that I hardly knew it, but that I was curious to find out more.

'Personaje,' painting in mixed media on cardboard by Remedios Varo, 1958.


'Personaje,' painting in oil on masonite by Remedios Varo, 1959.

My curiosity was assuaged, in part, by the numerous on-line image-galleries devoted to her work, but at the same time I was frustrated that the reproductions therein were all so small. I decided to order a book about Varo, and, naturally considered buying Unexpected Journeys: Janet A. Kaplan’s much-praised biography of the artist. At length, however, I opted to order a copy of the third (‘corrected and enlarged’) edition of the bilingual Catálogo Razonado of Varo’s œuvre, as published by Ediciones ERA of Mexico City in 2002, originally edited by Ricardo Ovalle and Walter Gruen, and revised by Gruen (Varo’s widower) and Anna Alexandra. I obtained the book from Iberoamericana Libros. The present images are details from scans taken from its pages: click on them to see them in full.

'Personaje Astral,' painting in oil on cardboard by Remedios Varo, 1961.

It was difficult to choose just a few images from the dozens of beautiful paintings reproduced in this book. I noticed that several works were simply named Personaje (Personage). Elsewhere in the catalogue were an Astral Personage (above), a Feline Personage, an Avian Personage, and a Winged Personage. Evidently these figures were of some importance to their depictor, so I thought they might be as good a starting-point as any. The only statement of Varo’s about any them recorded in the book concerns the second one shown here, and is as follows: Obviously, this person is fleeing with his prey. Due to his haste, some of the embossed motifs on the lower part of his garment leave a trail behind him.

'Personaje,' painting in oil & silver leaf on cardboard by Remedios Varo, 1961.


'Personaje,' painting in oil on masonite by Remedios Varo, 1961.
Most of Varo’s personages bear the delicate heart-shaped face with large almond eyes, long sharp nose, and thick mane of lively hair that marked the artist’s own appearance. The personæ she created thus serve as self-portraits transmuted through fantasy. Despite her warning—“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”—so much of the work is metaphorically autobiographical that exploring the interplay between her life and her art is essential to understanding her significance—Janet A. Kaplan.

The images above are copyright © Walter Gruen, and are reproduced here without permission, only for as long as no-one objects to their presence on these pages.

Posted by misteraitch at November 9, 2005 10:47 PM

Those eyes are quite haunting.

Posted by: L on November 10, 2005 01:05 AM

Excellent post!

I confess that I mentioned Varo to you not only because she seemed to be to your taste, but in the somewhat selfish hope that we would be treated to a post on her. My expectations are yet again exceeded!

As always, keep up the brilliant work!

Posted by: Bill on November 10, 2005 03:23 AM

good lord. absolutely stunning!

Posted by: voiceandsalt on November 10, 2005 04:14 AM

very interesting. on the one hand i feel as if i've seen this person's work before but on the other (even having read the crying...) i don't remember ever hearing the name. so hard to keep the endless torrent of interesting artists categorized properly. any you my friend aren't helping any.

anyhow in a certain way Varo actually seems a very relevant artists to be posting about. her work strikes me as a particularly baroque predecessor to the "lowbrow" (not my word!) ethos which is growing ever greater in popularity. the artists mostly out of l.a. and new york championed in the pages of juxtapoz. Varo could be showing today along side some of the "darker"more painterly artists of this ilk (Mark Ryden or Camille Rose Garcia perhaps) with no problem, and would be considered super hip i think. of course everyone would assume it was all meant to be ironic... (grumble grumble) but that's another discussion.

i'm very fond of the second and fourth example you've posted here. good stuff. course coming from the combined giornale / o.quintus pedigree i would expect nothing less.

Posted by: jmorrison on November 10, 2005 03:14 PM

(P.S. The Amazon link is broken.)

Posted by: LF on November 10, 2005 04:33 PM

It should be fixed now, thanks.

Posted by: misteraitch on November 10, 2005 07:07 PM

I too have déjà vu feelings about seeing these wonderful paintings. Perhaps it's the cross-genre style -- elements of surrealism and 'fantasy' -- that are referenced by others in later works. And then there's that 'alien' face.

It is curious Varo isn't more widely known. Perhaps that's the Kahlo shadow. They are both very individual in their surrealistic renderings.

Great post, thanks. With your detailed attribution I could only imagine that Mr Gruen would be happy for the exposure.

Posted by: peacay on November 11, 2005 04:59 PM

i can only say that you did acquainted me with something as very mysterious d`same time very familiar to me I saw them somewhere...where-where ? I really dont know yet..

I am gratefull to you for those posts..

Posted by: le tef tef on November 27, 2006 09:23 PM

... I think I'm compelled to buy this book.... time to start saving.

Posted by: Ben on May 10, 2007 11:35 AM

I came across your post when looking up Varo referenced in Dionne Brand's wonderful tale, What We All Long For.

Posted by: smac on August 12, 2007 08:49 PM

I discovered Remedios Varo in 1970, through the book made available by Walter Gruen. Also, I contacted him and arranged to borrow a 35mm film (that he was instrumental in producing) and showed it to about a hundred people in a local film society. It is a remarkable film for the camera never leaves her work, but moves from one detail to another, to another, revealing a vast landscape of her art (and mind). Maybe you can locate this film; it is approximately 30 minutes in length.

Thank you for the scans. It is very nice to see the details.

Posted by: Thomas on September 14, 2007 06:44 PM

Is Walter still with us? He allowed me into their house and there I saw four or five of her paintings on their drawing room walls. He asked me what I wanted; I suggested that I be allowed to only look for a while.

Posted by: JP on October 31, 2007 08:50 AM
Comments are now closed