Remedios Varo

FROM ‘MARA, MARIETTA’
Intermezzo 1: Lilo

We speak of women artists, we find we share a love for Frida Kahlo, Tamara de Lempicka, Remedios Varo.

JANET KAPLAN ON REMEDIOS VARO
Star Catcher

An image of the moon entrapped is seen in Varo’s Star Catcher, in which a fantastic huntress has captured the moon and carries it in a cage. Dressed in an exquisite costume with delicately marked butterfly-wing sleeves, she holds the butterfly net with which she caught the glowing crescent. Related to Diana the huntress—goddess of the moon and protectress of women—she has snared an archetypal symbol of feminine consciousness, but her purpose remains unclear. This painting, among Varo’s most beautiful, is iconographically ambiguous. The image of an imprisoned moon is disturbing; it reinforces the feelings of constraint and enclosure that fill so many of Varo’s works. The tension between the strength of the butterfly huntress and the weakness of the caged moon exemplifies the subtle interplay between powerlessness and power that was a recurring theme for Varo.

Remedios Varo, Star Catcher, 1956

Remedios Varo, Minotaur, 1959

Minotaur

Varo transformed traditionally male mythic heroes into female form, creating, for example, a female Minotaur who holds a magical key before a mysterious floating keyhole. Although many of the characters in Varo’s paintings are androgynous or asexual, in these mythological transformations she was careful to delineate the female anatomy of her heroines.

Varo was not alone in exploring such symbols and transformations. In work by many of the women associated with the Surrealist movement there are references to women’s secret wisdom and special creative powers. This centrality of woman as a creative agent developed in seeming reaction to official Surrealist doctrine, which defined woman as muse and as object of male desire. The self-referential nature of work by the women Surrealists is most clearly apparent in the repeated self-portrait characters who (like those that bear Varo’s features) signal the artists’ intense quest for personal definition. Absorption with self-analysis is found throughout their work, explored in a series of narrative fantasies, not only in painting and sculpture but in writing as well.

 

From Janet Kaplan, Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys (NY: Abbeville Press Publishers, 2000).