Remedios Varo (1908 – 1963) was a Spanish/Mexican surrealist artist best known for her enigmatic, mystical and “alchemical” paintings, that “[blended] surrealist techniques and images, Freudian and Jungian psychology, science, magic, and the occult” [Vosburg N. (2005) Strange Yet “Familiar”: Cats and Birds in Remedios Varo’s Artistic Universe. In: Figuring Animals, 2016]. Below, I present and briefly discuss her three paintings.
I. Hacia la Torre (Towards the Tower) (1960)
Towards the Tower depicts a number of identical girls dressed in identical clothing that are whisked away by a man and a woman on bicycles. They are moving away from houses that resemble a beehive. Given Varo’s catholic upbringing, the wide interpretation of the painting is that the woman leading the girls on the bicycle is a nun and the girls are pupils in a convent. The girls share similar features as the artist wanted to underline the rigid conformity of the place. The beehive-shaped houses also underline the idea that the girls work towards one common goal (like bees) and their individuality is supressed or ignored. The “magic” numbers are also present here – we see twelve houses (for example, there are also twelve months), and seven girls (there are also seven days in a week). This is the first painting in the series of three paintings that depict the same women who first flee the houses (the convent) to get to the Tower, and then escape. The third painting (The Escape) shows a girl on a journey with her love.
II. El Juglar (The Juggler) (1956)
In this painting, a juggler or a magician is seen entertaining a crowd of people identically dressed. The magician stands near a pentacle-shaped wagon where one female is “imprisoned”. In the wagon, there are also a lion, an owl and a goat. One interpretation is that the magician “indoctrinates” into his belief the mass of people who are stunned and amazed by his performance. It is possible that, when they heed to the juggler’s manipulation, they could find themselves in a similar uncomfortable situation as the “imprisoned” woman in the juggler’s wagon. The birds flying over the green cart of the magician may emphasise the magician’s elevated status. In this context, the owl inside the green wagon represents wisdom and education which the magician tries to impart. But, the situation is more sinister since there is also a goat in the wagon, which can stand for a devil or hidden evil, and a lion, which is a symbol of dominance. To that effect, the impression may be that the magician tries to convey to the audience knowledge that is dark and overpowering, and, instead of liberating the audience, the purpose is to confine and subdue the audience through the performance. The juggler’s red clothes may also stand for both attention and danger, and the colour of his wagon – green, may stand for rebirth and progress.
III. Papilla Estelar (Star Maker) (1958)
In this painting, there is a female sitting in a confined room, feeding star dust from space (processed through a mill) to a caged moon. One explanation is that the picture represents entrapment and isolation, but not without hope: the moon is being fed, and there is a chance of release when the process of feeding is complete. The image may also represent a one-on-one dialogue with creative powers of the universe, with the woman in the chair helping to the shape the fabric of the cosmos. There is a theme here of transformation and betterment, especially since there is a crescent moon, representing growth. Moon is also the representation of a female (power) (in alchemical terms (silver)), and, thus, the painting also hints at nurturing one’s female energy to transform and better oneself (the universe).