Paintings of Remedios Varo II

I miss writing art-related posts and have decided to talk again about surrealist paintings of Spanish/Mexican artist Remedios Varo (1908 – 1963) (see my 2019 post where I already talked about her paintings Hacia la Torre, El Juglar and Papilla Estelar).

Revelation or The Clock-Maker [1955]

In this painting, the Clock-Maker is hard at work in his studio surrounded by grandfather-clocks all showing the same time when Revelation (a whirling disk) literally floats through his window, catching him unawares. Here, Remedios Varo wanted to capture the moment of inspiration/divine revelation or “illumination” literarily presenting itself to a man, changing his understanding of how time works. Janet Kaplan in her book Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys explains that this is the moment when the Clock-Maker, who represents our “ordinary”, Newtonian time, realises with a shock that time is, in fact, relative, as Albert Einstein stated. This means it is not absolute or universal as was previously thought, but depends entirely on each entity or person’s position in the universe and in relation to everything else. This Revelation causes Clock-Maker’s tools and mechanical parts of his clocks to fall on the floor. Time can no longer be “trapped” or “fixed” within a clock and the Clock-Maker’s art and work will never be the same.

I am intrigued by various characters in Varo’s paintings. The figure on the left is from Remedios Varo’s painting Vagabond [1957], showing some self-sufficient journey-man who travels on a special construction (half-robe, half-house and half-vehicle), seemingly carrying everything he needs: a cat, books, a flower pot (a rose) and even a picture of his dear one. Commenting on this painting, Remedios Varo said that, although the man on his journey seems completely autonomous, he is actually far from being free and the fact that he “needs the portrait, the rose and and his cat [means that] he is not truly free.’ My guess is that it is his past and sentimental attachments that weigh him down, willingly caging him in a contraption of his own choosing.

The painting on the right is titled The Star-Catcher [1956], showing a person (some say a huntress) with a catching net and a cage with trapped Moon inside. The blank facial expression of the Huntress and the caged Moon are unsettling, but the overall effect is one of wonder and ambiguousness, rather than disquiet. As with so many other paintings by Varo, the focus is probably on reaching the alchemical goal – penetrating and mastering the core elements and mysteries of nature. As seen from her exquisite dress, the Huntress herself is no stranger to the art of luminosity and will probably use the captured Moon either for study, experiment or decoration.

Gravity/Phenomenon of Weightlessness (Personaje Astrale) [1961] is another painting by Remedios Varo that is in the category of the “personification” or “objectification” of the mysterious forces of nature. It shows a man in his study “manipulating” planet Earth in the air to produce the laws of science: gravity, circular motion. As is evident from his room-study which showcases walls, windows and the floor at impossible angles, he has a complete mastery over this universe’s scientific laws, including gravitational forces. A more common interpretation is that this is a scientist who, like in Varo’s painting The Clock-Maker, has just discovered Einstein’s theory of relativity and tries to keep balance as his previous Newtonian world of universal order breaks down and is replaced by a more mind-boggling theory.

The painting on the right is titled The Call (La Llamada) [1961], showing a woman dressed in a long robe walking briskly through a courtyard and carrying alchemical tools: mortar and pestle around her neck, and an alembic. She is painted in bright orange-gold, as though caught “aflame” by her desire and purpose to answer the Call. Her hair is linked to the celestial body in the sky, meaning that, in her nightly adventure, she may be “driven” by “heavenly designs”. Like so many other paintings by Varo, The Call elicits uncanny feelings and, much like the painting Revelation above, Varo shines in capturing the moments of mystery, mystical activities and being in contact with the otherworld.

Three Fates (Tres Destinos) [1956]

This painting brings to mind the three Fates of the Greek and Roman Worlds (see my article here), but even though this tradition might have been Varo’s starting point, she went further and created her own unique vision of the three destinies sharing unbreakable bonds. Each of the persons depicted resides in his or her own house and is engaged in a task: one is seen writing, another seems to paint and yet another is talking to an object similar to a microphone. The three are connected by barely visible threads whose source emanates from the celestial body in the sky. This is what Remedios Varo says about her painting: “Each of these three characters is peacefully doing what he wants to, oblivious to the others; but there is a complicated machine from which come pulleys that wind around them and make them move (they think they move freely). In turn the machine is propelled by a pulley connected to a star in the sky which moves the whole apparatus. The star represents the destiny of these people; and although they are not aware of it, their destinies are intertwined: one day their lives will cross”. This theme of the interconnectivity of people’s destinies is very thought-provoking.

Visit my other art-related posts where I talk about the art of such diverse artists as Ivan Aivazovsky, John Everett Millais, Francisco de Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, Giovanni Boldini, Arnold Böcklin, Frida Kahlo, René Magritte, Edward Hopper and Jacek Yerka.

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