Mimicry is an unconscious behaviour through which a person adapts to the surrounding environment until they are absorbed in it. The life of Remedios Varo is very far from the meaning of this term. However, it is a starting point to understand the struggle to become one of the female artists of her time.
As fate would have it, Remedios Varo was born in Anglès, Girona. Her father, a hydraulic engineer, had been sent to this village in La Selva to create a canalisation of the water of the Ter River, from Pasteral to the Burés textile company (Lanao 1989). Although Remedios only lived in Anglès for up to five years, the nooks and crannies of the old village, the medieval aesthetics, the lush forests, as well as the booming industry appear in her paintings as the backdrop to a world of dreams. Even her name was part of the town. The Virgin of the Remedy (la Mare de Déu del Remei) is the patron of Anglès.
She was educated at the Real Academia de San Fernando in Madrid. Entry was very difficult, and even more so being a woman, but her ability to study, the organisation and the teachings of her father made what from the outside seemed impossible become a reality. She was influenced by the milieu of Madrid in the 1920s, but beyond her training a defining point in her life would have a beautiful city name: Paris. Going to Paris, to find art and artists there, was unattainable without permission from one’s family and a wedding. The marriage to Gerardo Lizarraga, Basque painter and anarchist, would be her passport, her way to freedom.
The artistic movement Remedios became a part of was called Surrealism, a subversive movement that sought to influence the order and morality of the traditional middle classes through provocation. The provocation was the means and the end. The world of dreams, chance, hallucination, theories of the subconscious, the mystery of the unusual, and transgression were the main pillars of a cultural revolt featuring writers, thinkers and artists who proclaimed themselves rebels. However, shaking up the cultural and social world did not include conceiving of women as artists in their own right. Men thought and women listened. Men acted and women watched and Remedios was nothing more than a woman surrounded by men, men who, in their stubborn desire to change the order of things, did not contemplate the possibility of treating her as an equal. Of all the men who passed through her life, only one asked her to drop everything and start painting.
For many years, when she finishes her work she sits in the same chair, in front of the window. The afternoon sun illuminates the orange-yellow room. She has had an easy life, I mean she has never lacked for anything, but she doesn’t remember the last time she laughed heartily. She has always liked the armchair. It makes a good home. She spends many hours there. Sometimes, when she looks in the mirror, she has the feeling that lily flowers have been engraved on her face.
The armchair is a safe place with perfect elegance. Sometimes she looks at her hands and arms and thinks that they are already almost like those in the armchair, long, slender and honey-coloured.
Sometimes she regrets feeling so comfortable there because from so much adapting to the shape of the piece of furniture, she doesn’t do much else. That green cloth she bought to embroider flowers has been waiting in the basket for a long time. From time to time it takes on a life of its own and rises like a snake to the sound of ancestral music.
Or maybe it doesn’t dance, maybe it just flirts and mimics the cat.
Sometimes the clinking of the scissors can be heard and she is amazed by it. It could be said that they dance the dance of the passage of time.
The sewing basket is alone and does not want its owner to leave, so one of the legs clings to the chair and it responds with a loving bite. Maybe, on closer inspection, appearances are misleading and the sewing basket has all four legs on the floor. If not, why would there be the shadow of the leg that is no longer on the floor?
Sitting, she looks at nothing, camouflaged in her usual armchair, with lily flowers on her face, her hands as perfect as the arms of her chair and her tiny feet small, shrunken and very thin!
The clouds didn’t look very threatening when the closet of time opened. The sky was blue and hopeful, but there were threats that took on a life of their own. They were common elements, those that are always among us. Elements that one day exercised the power that strength bestows. There was nothing reason could to do to stop that sky and those clouds from turning into fire, war and exile
Remedios Varo fled the Civil War to Paris. Then, in the context of World War II, went into exile in Mexico. A lifetime of suffering and constant struggle until she was able to devote herself professionally to painting. If she had lived longer, surely her name would have been engraved in gold letters on the list of painters of her time, but her life was left her at 55, when she had barely had a couple of exhibitions. We invite the reader to explore her work. Mischievous paths will lead you through a world of fantasy.
To find out more
Kaplan, J. A. (1998). Viajes inesperados: el arte y la vida de Remedios Varo. [Unexpected journeys: the art and life of Remedios Vario.] Ediciones Era.
Lanao, P. (1989). Remedios Varo, el retorn d’una surrealista desconeguda. [Remedios Varo, the return of an unknown Surrealist.] Revista de Girona, 88-95