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Remedios Varo (1908 - 1963) was a surrealist painter. She was born in Spain; studied in Madrid, Barcelona, and Paris; when Germany occupied Paris, she emigrated to Mexico, where she lived and painted until her death.

Her paintings use surrealism to explore the intersection of science, magic, and the spiritual. Leonora Carrington, another painter and surrealist in Mexico, was her close friend.

Remedios Varo was born in Anglés, Spain in 1913. As a child she attended convent schools at the behest of her devout Catholic mother, and later studied painting at the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid and the Ecole de Beaux-Arts in Barcelona.

In 1930 she married painter Gerardo Lizzaraga, then left him for anarchist poet Benjamin Péret in 1936. In 1937 she and Péret were wed and joined the Parisian Surrealists. In Paris, Varo met her lifelong close friend, artist Leonora Carrington.

By 1942, the Germans had occupied Paris and Varo fled the country with her husband. The two of them settled in Mexico, along with Carrington. There Varo also befriended Natalia Trotsky, and became an active Trotskyite. Other notable artists were living in Mexico during this time, including surrealist Frida Kahlo.

In 1947, Varo and Péret separated. He returned to Paris, she remained in Mexico. She remarried in 1953 to businessman Walter Gruen, who encouraged her art. With his support she produced her first solo exhibit in 1955, which was a great success. Later in her life, Varo became prone to bouts of depression. She died in 1963 in Mexico City.

Varo painted in the surrealist style, notably combining a scientific interest in the natural world with a magical medieval religious/spiritual influence. These themes can be seen in many of her works, including:
  • Revelation, or The Clockmaker (1955): Shows a clockmaker in his workshop surrounded by grandfather clocks that all read the same time. Each clock contains a little figure in costume from various historical periods. The clockmaker's attention is on a mystical swirling blue disk that has just appeared in his window, which represents Einstein's discovery of the relativity of time -- a shattering new idea about how time works, that it is not a fixed moment to be trapped inside the body of a grandfather clock.
  • The Useless Science, or The Alchemist (1955): Depicts a lone alchemist sitting on a black and white checked floor, turning the handle of a Rube Goldberg-esque machine full of gears and funnels that is producing only a strange green liquid (and not gold, as was most alchemists' goal).
  • Creation of the Birds (1958): An owl-like figure sits at a desk, drawing birds with a pen that has been connected to a violin hanging around her neck. The birds are illuminated by moonlight magnified through a lens, then come to life and fly away through the window of the owl's workshop.
  • Unsubmissive Plant (1961): A botanist sits at a work table that holds several plants whose twisting branches spell out mathematical formulae. The botanist's tangled hair forms similar formulae as his work fills his head. Only one plant does not produce numbers: it has produced a healthy pink flower and a wilting branch that spells "two plus two is almost four" in Spanish.
  • Phenomenon of Weightlessness (1963): Shows a scientist whose globe has come off its shelf, tilting to an angle. In doing this it has created a new, tilted spatial dimenson, and the scientist's study is shown with two floors, walls, windows: one tilted, the other properly aligned.
  • Still Life Reviving (1963): Varo's last painting. Depicts the traditional still-life objects lifting off a table and revolving in a solar system arrangement around a candle flame. It is also interesting in that it is one of only a few of her paintings that does not contain a human figure. The title is a sort of pun in Spanish, as the phrase for "still life" translates literally to "dead nature," giving the title the alternate interpretation, "dead nature returning to life."
Varo is also studied by many feminist art historians. She is a notable artist within this sphere, with several works that reflect femininity and women's self-perception. One such painting is A Visit to the Plastic Surgeon's (1960) in which a woman wearing a veil over her large nose is shown entering a doctor's office. In the window of the office is a sculpture of a nude female figure with a pretty little nose and six breasts.

See some of the paintings mentioned in this writeup here: http://www.nd.edu/~sweber/art/varo/

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