The Magic of Creation: Remedios Varo

Okay, it’s been a while. The past couple of months or so have been pretty stressful emotionally and mentally, and I found it necessary to turn inward and shut the external world out for the most part. So I really wasn’t thinking at all about writing a new blog post (not that I post prolifically anyway) or spending much time communicating at all, except to my husband, family and a few close friends. Nevertheless, that old guilt about having a blog and not using it has been quietly building up inside me. So, in order to quell the guilt while expressing some of my current preoccupations, I’ve decided to showcase an artist who is a new (very) favorite mine.

Born in Spain in 1908, Remedios Varo (full name: María de los Remedios Varo Uranga) spent her early childhood traveling around Spain and North Africa, living wherever her father, a hydraulic engineer, found work. Her family finally settled in Madrid, and while there, she studied painting at the Academia de San Fernando. She left Spain for Paris in the early 1930s to immerse herself in Surrealism, but returned to Spain in 1935 to live in Barcelona and joined the art group Logicophobiste. Varo returned to Paris in 1937 to escape the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and in 1941, she was forced again to relocate, this time to Mexico to escape the Nazi occupation of France. She lived in Latin America for the rest of her life, becoming friends with fellow artists Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and others, especially fellow ex-pat Leonora Carrington. Varo’s beautifully haunting style matured throughout the 1950s and reached its height in the early 1960s. She died in 1963 of a heart attack. Despite having a well-developed, distinct style, Varo is not well known. Male Surrealists (and others in the art community) often considered the work of their female colleagues to be inferior, making it difficult for female artists to promote their work, and so many Surrealist and similarly aligned female artists like Varo suffered in obscurity. Only recently has an interest in their work begun to develop.

Varo’s paintings are highly allegorical with a wide range of influences, including pre-Columbian art, Surrealism, Sufism and the I-Ching as well as the theories of analyst Carl Jung, medieval German theologian Meister Eckhart and Russian theosophist Helena Blavatsky. Varo viewed all of these sources as avenues to self-realization and the transformation of consciousness. Her paintings portray fantastic, often female or ambiguously feminine characters in isolated, confined environments, usually in some act of creation, as in Creation of the Birds (1957). Much of her work is interpreted as an expression of her frustration at being marginalized as a woman and as a female artist — themes that are certainly expressed in paintings like Visit to the Plastic Surgeon (1960) and Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst (1961).

But what interests me most about Varo’s paintings are not their social or political statements, but her emphasis on the mysteries and potential of the mind, especially as it finds expression in the arts. The creation of art is rendered as a kind of magic in her paintings, depicted as both a mechanical and supremely natural process. It is a way to both act on the external world and transform and nourish the self. It is a kind of alchemy, taking base materials (for Varo, masonite, oils, brushes, colors and shapes; or for me, leaves of paper and a pen, a laptop and combinations of letters that essentially mean nothing except whatever meaning we give them) and manipulating those elements to create something new and meaningful, to express the ineffable.

I discovered Varo’s work not too long ago (around the same time that the difficulties I mentioned above arose, or maybe a little before) and, in turning inward, I’ve been considering the same kinds of things that Varo depicts in her work. Many people are suspicious of fantasy, but it’s such a necessary tool for exploring ourselves, the world around us and the connections between the two.

Below are several examples of Remedios Varo’s work; click on the images to view them larger. For more information about Remedios Varo and her paintings, here’s a helpful link. And, as always, you’re welcome to leave comments at the bottom of the page.

Creation of the Birds - 1959
Visit to the Plastic Surgeon - 1960
Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst - 1960
Solar Music - 1961

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  1. Great article!
    Remedios is so utterly fantastic! As a female artist it is quite a shame that so few know who she is for her talent is so apparent. She and Leonora Carrington are so inspiring. And in terms of Surrealist history, only a select group of people even know of their contributions to the movement. Thank you for the post!! I have yet to see her work in a gallery and hope to make my pilgrimage someday in the near future.
    She is Magic.

    1. Hi Destanne! I completely agree with you: it’s a shame that so few people are aware of her. Fortunately, I’ve been seeing a slowly mounting interest in her work and the work of other female Surrealists. I’d love to see an exhibit of her work, too, someday. I’ve heard that they’re fairly frequent in Mexico.

      Thanks for dropping by!

  2. You wrote: “her emphasis on the mysteries and potential of the mind.” Dostoevsky spoke about the coward and the slave in his work, “Notes from the Underground,” those who are “mortally afraid” of their own eccentricity. Remedios would’ve been his ideal artist, who was brave enough to avert the “stone wall,” and thereby “admire the sublime and beautiful in everything.” Thanks for sharing. –H

    1. You’re welcome! I’m glad you like Varo’s work. And great point about Bosch; along with fantastic subjects, they share a similar color palette and use very precise shapes and lines. Thanks for sharing!

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