This is the third of a five part blog series on the women artists who have inspired the My Muses Collection.
I was curious about the actual definition of the word "muse" so I looked it up. The dictionary definition is: "a person or personified force who is the source of inspiration for a creative artist; especially : a guiding genius". For me, Remedios Varo is the epitome of both of those things. There has been no other artist who has influenced my art making more than her. To this day, I marvel at her paintings and her work never fails to take my breath away! When Ron and I lived in NYC, I was fortunate enough to see her work in person at a Surrealist exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2002. There are no words I could use to describe seeing her work up close and personal. At the very least, it was awe inspiring.
Portrait of Remedios Varo in her studio by photographer, Kati Horna, 1963
Before I continue with my story, let me give you a little background on Remedios Varo. Not many people know about her and her art but trust me when I tell you, she is well worth a Google so you can see her work!
Remedios Varo was born in 1908 in Girona, Spain. As a child, she was taught technical drawing by her father who was an engineer. He also provided her with books on science and adventure, mysticism and philosophy. From her mother, she was given a strict Catholic upbringing and education. All of which would play a major role in her paintings. For university, she attended the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, in Madrid (the alma mater of Salvador Dali) and graduated in 1930 with a degree in art education. In 1937, she moved to Paris where she became very active with the Surrealist art movement. As WWII threatened Paris, she was forced to join other refugees leaving France and fled to Mexico. Varo would reside in Mexico for the rest of her life.
Remedios Varo, 'Vampiros Vegetarianos', 1962
Varo created close to 400 works of art in her lifetime. Her art is a unique blend of symbolism and personal iconography, influenced by spiritualism, science, and philosophy. Her paintings were made in oils on wood panel and she employed several techniques including: decalcomania (pressing into wet paint with a material such as paper, aluminium foil, or plastic, resulting in a pattern in the paint), frottage (rubbing with a medium over a texture surface), grattage (scraping the painted surface), and eclaboussure (splattering turpentine over wet oil paint then soaking it up to reveal random splatters). In addition to her paintings and drawings, Varo designed costumes for theatrical productions and made her own clothes. Remedios Varo died in 1963. She was 54 years old.
I was introduced to Varo's work back in San Francisco by, I believe, my good friend and fellow artist, Carolyn Chaperon. Which would have been sometime in the later half of the 1990s. I remember the first painting of Varo's that I saw entitled, 'Vampiros Vegetarianos'. I remember it clearly because at that time, Ron and I were vegetarian. Vegetarianism aside, I was blown away!
'Mother Hel', 2002
I really didn't start studying Varo's paintings and playing with her techniques until after I learned the mische technique in 2001. Before learning the mische technique, I only painted alla prima - paint straight onto the canvas. The mische technique taught me the use of glazing layers.
'Theographical Exploration' 2002
With my new painting knowledge and reconnecting with my love for Varo's work, I started to experiment with her techniques: decalcomania, grattage, and eclaboussure are my favorites that I return to again and again. I employ them in my early glazing layers to create abstract patterns. Then I meditate on the abstraction until an image appears to me. I used these techniques to create my paintings: 'Bubbles', Crematorium', 'Mother Hel', 'Theorgraphical Exploration', 'Kuenberg Niche', and 'Betwixt and Between'.
'Betwixt and Between', 2002
Since embarking on this project, revisiting old work, and remembering techniques I've used, it has stirred in me the urge to play more with my paint, loosen up, and experiment, as I did all those years ago. To get my juices flowing and my courage up, I pulled my Remedios Varo catalogue off the shelf to revisit with all of her amazing work. Once again, I am totally blown away and totally inspired. Her art is eye candy for my soul.
It so interesting to me how life puts things in your path when you need them the most. My Muses project has been one of those things. One small example of this mysterious force is - I have a painting I've been working on for awhile now and it's a nice enough portrait but it needed something. It has been sitting in the corner of my studio for months waiting for me to figure out what that something is. With all of the writing and remembering I've been doing about Remedios Varo and my other muses, I remembered all of these tools I had collected over the years in my attempts to create various techniques. Digging around in my toolbox, I found an old favorite - a straw. Yep! a twenty+ year old plastic drinking straw. I use it to blow around egg tempera on wet glazing layers and the results are the best textures! Re-inspired by Varo, I used that highly technical art tool (wink) on my waiting portrait and got exactly what I felt it was missing. Now I'm super excited to move forward with that painting. Proof that my muse, Remedios Varo, with her guiding genius, was working in my brain once again. Who knows how long that painting would have sat in the corner if it weren't for this exercise in revisiting my past. Most likely it would have been put in the closet or worse yet, painted over.
It's been a wee surprising just how much this project has stirred up in me. Every day that I work on My Muses project I am flooded with rememberings. Those memories are triggering so many new ideas that I want to try. I can't get them out of my head fast enough and everyday, I can't wait to get into the studio to play with my paints! Who knows what I'll do next. It's so exciting! Though one thing I know for sure, my muses are here with me. Encouraging me to continue my work, inspiring me to experiment and innovate, and reminding me of just how bad ass women artists are, myself included.
The studio is calling. Until next time...
Work in progress, 2023
View the My Muses Collection here.