(Art) The Sorceress Who Left Too Soon

Born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in Anglès, in a small town in the province of Girona, north of Spain in 1908, Remedio Varo helped her mother get over the death of another daughter (hence the name).

Varo’s father, Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo, was a hydraulic engineer, and the family traveled the Iberian Peninsula and into North Africa for work. To keep Remedios busy during these long trips, her father had her copy the technical drawings of his work with their straight lines, radii, and perspectives, which she reproduced faithfully. He encouraged independent thought and supplemented her education with science and adventure books, notably the novels of Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. As she grew older, he provided her with text on mysticism and philosophy.

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After receiving a formal education in art in Spain, Varo fled to France to escape the Spanish Civil War and then to Mexico City to escape the Nazis. Her brother, Luis, died fighting for Franco.

Varo often painted images of women in confined spaces, achieving a sense of isolation. Later in her career, her characters developed into her emblematic androgynous figures with heart-shaped faces, large almond eyes, and the aquiline noses that represent her own features. Varo often depicted herself through these key features in her paintings, regardless of the figure’s gender. Some of Varo’s art clearly elevated women, but it was not necessarily her intention to address problems in gender inequality.

This is “Woman after a visit to the psychoanalyst:”

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Varo was influenced by styles as diverse as those of Francisco Goya, El Greco, Picasso, and Braque. She considered surrealism as an “expressive resting place within the limits of Cubism, and as a way of communicating the incommunicable”. Even though Varo was critical of her childhood religion, Catholicism, her work was influenced by religion. She differed from other Surrealists because of her constant use of religion in her work.

She also turned to a wide range of mystic and hermetic traditions, both Western and non-Western for influence. She was very connected to nature and believed that there was strong relation between the plant, human, animal, and mechanical world. She turned with equal interest to the ideas of Carl Jung as to the theories of Helena Blavatsky, Meister Eckhart, and the Sufis, and was as fascinated with the legend of the Holy Grail as with sacred geometry, witchcraft, alchemy and the I Ching. The books Illustrated Anthology of Sorcery, Magic and Alchemy by Grillot de Givry and The History of Magic and the Occult by Kurt Seligmann were highly valued in her circle. She saw in each of these an avenue to self-knowledge and the transformation of consciousness.

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She was also greatly influenced by her childhood journeys. She often depicted out of the ordinary vehicles in mystifying lands. These works echo her family travels in her childhood.

In 1963, at the age of 54, Varo died of a heart attack in Mexico City, prompting the surrealist poet Andre Breton, one of the founders of the movement, to comment that she was “the sorceress who left too soon.” (adapted from Wikipedia)

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