5 works to meet Remedios Varo

By Sybaris

After the First World War, the world was rebuilding, and not just geographically or politically. From the arts there were many manifestations that shook the international arena. Surrealism was one of them. Surrealism had an impact on the visual arts, cinema and literature, mainly. Some of its most important representatives are André Breton, Salvador Dalí, Max Ernst or Man Ray. In Mexico, Surrealism was magnificently received. Luis Buñuel, for example, changed national cinematography by fusing realistic and surreal interests. Remedios Varo was born in Spain on December 16, 1908. However, she always considered herself Mexican. To commemorate her birth anniversary, we review 5 of her most important works.

1. The souls of the mountains (spirits of the mountains) (1938)

Remedios Varo began her work as an artist in the 1930s. Her first works were collages resulting from the surrealist technique called exquisite corpse (a process where one worked with an artistic gesture, then there was another artistic gesture that responded to the first one. The third it responded to the second one and so on). The souls of the mountains announce what would later become her personal hallmark: imaginary worlds where dreams and reality coexist in the same space. Women’s faces announcing something fatal and, at the same time, fascinating. A highly personal space where the most disturbing and, paradoxically, attractive nightmares have a place.

2. Vejez (1948)

In many ways Remedios Varo was a feminist. Some of the most important themes of her works position women in places that society had not allowed them at that time. Vejez explores through metaphors the feelings that a woman has when the last years of her life approach. In the image you can see two main elements: a pink house (a kind of tower that houses a princess) and the trunk of a tree that shows its roots. Which of the two represents old age? Both and neither. In the background a timid forest shows the deficiencies of the trees that make it up. However, if you stop to look down, you will notice a slight grass sprouting. The intense colors remind us that, for Remedios Varo, art is a space where all possible Remedios Varo participate: the girl, the woman and the old woman. The painting seems to have been painted with the purposes of a girl who yearns for love, but there are also the features of a mature woman who observes life with calm and disappointment.  

3. Dolor reumático I y II (1948)

The world of Remedios Varo fused concepts of art with surrealism, esotericism, poetry and science fiction. This diptych shows the two faces of pain. The body as a decrepit place that causes pleasant sensations but, above all, irremediable pain. On side A of this dialectical painting, a woman is seen – inside a building surrounded by pink clouds – nailed to a column. Immovable. Resigned to stay there forever. Side B shows the body of a suspended woman suffering the pain of a relief that seems not to come. In both paintings, Remedios Varo associates the pain with the presence of a building, as if the rheumatic pain was not only caused from the inside.

4. La creación de las aves (1957)

Remedios Varo probably reached her peak as a painter in the late 1950s and early 1960s, in the premature twilight of her life. La creación de las aves is an exploration of the color green and its meanings. The painting uses three primary colors in different registers as a playful way to expose an imprecise feeling. The female bird on the desk draws a bird with her right hand and brings it to life with her left through an artifact that amplifies light. It is not only an intuitive creation process, but also the use of the scientific method. As in the rest of Remedios Varo’s paintings of the time, the details of this work could be interpreted in so many ways that they would occupy hundreds of pages. 

5. Mujer saliendo del psicoanalista (1960)

The last years of Remedios Varo’s life were very productive for the painter who disappeared on October 8, 1963 in Mexico City. Mujer saliendo del psicoanalista can be interpreted as a declaration of principles for the figure of woman. As she herself commented at that time, the painting shows the stalking death. And the way dreams can dodge everyday boredom. But this painting does not only represent dreams: it is a dream in itself. Each of the elements that make it up can be interpreted to create a bridge between the world of dreams and the feelings of reality: the figure of the father hanging from the left hand of our protagonist, the faces that are duplicated as a way of exposing the double personalities, the hair that floats and tangles like menacing snakes. It is one of the most important paintings of surrealism.