“The dream world and the real world are the same,” declared Spanish-born artist Remedios Varo, who alchemically combined traditional techniques, Surrealist methods, and mystical philosophic inquiry into visionary dreamscapes.

Raised in Madrid, Varo learned observational drawing from her father and then trained as a painter. Moving to Barcelona and Paris in the 1930s offered liberation from academic painting and family expectations, exposing Varo to modernist thinkers and a close association with Surrealist artists. Her intimacy with the group is evident in an untitled 1935 collage created with Esteban Francés, Oscar Domínguez, and Marcel Jean using the technique known as cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse). Varo and her cohort took turns adding an element to a piece of paper and folding over it, then unfolding the sheet to reveal the collective result.

In 1941 Varo emigrated to Mexico, fleeing Fascism in France and Spain. There she built a new creative life among other expatriate artists and intellectuals, becoming especially close with Surrealist Leonora Carrington. Varo’s first works from this period reflect the trauma of war and displacement, but by 1947, when she decided to stay in Mexico, her practice was flourishing. Her drawings and paintings during this time explore otherworldly narrative scenes characterized by a protagonist (often female) encountering supernatural forces. The Juggler (The Magician) reflects this, depicting a visiting magician presenting wonders to a crowd of townspeople. Symbols abound in the work, including a pentagram-shaped mother-of-pearl inlay forming the magician’s face. Here the five-pointed star, is said to represent enlightenment, one of many meanings attributed to the ancient symbol.

By the time of Varo’s death 1963, the artist had created over 500 works, most produced in Mexico. Like the magician in her painting, Varo aspired to reveal hidden metaphysical wonders through close observation and meticulous technique. As poet Octavio Paz wrote, “as if she painted with her eyes rather than with her hands, Remedios sweeps the canvas clean and heaps up clarities on its transparent surface.”

Jennifer Tobias, Reader Services Librarian, Archives, Library, and Research Collections, 2019


The research for this text was supported by a generous grant from The Modern Women's Fund.

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