Remedios Varo (1908-1963)
Remedios Varo (1908-1963)

La tejedora roja

Remedios Varo (1908-1963)
La tejedora roja
oil on paper mounted on panel
17 ½ x 11 ½ in. (44.5 x 29.2 cm.)
Executed in 1956.
Private collection, Mexico City.
J. Fernández, Catálogo de las exposiciones de arte, Mexico City, Universidad Autónoma de México, 1972, p. 122 (illustrated).
M. Rivera, Trampantojos: El círculo en la obra de Remedios Varo, Mexico City, Siglo veintiuno editores, s.a. de c.v., 2005, p. 111 (illustrated in color).
T. Arcq, et al., The Five Keys to the Secret World of Remedios Varo, Mexico City, Artes de México, 2008, p.p. 36, 38-39, (illustrated in color).
W. Gruen et al, Remedios Varo, Catalogo Razonado, Mexico City, Ediciones Era, 2008, p. 186, cat. 141 (illustrated in color).
L. Cirlot, Las vanguardias artísticas a la luz del esoterismo y la espiritualidad, Barcelona, Universitat de Barcelona, 2014, p. 75. (illustrated).
Mexico City, Museo de Arte Moderno, Obra de Remedios Varo, 1971.
Further details
1 This photography is in Beatriz Varo de Cano’s archive, a cropped version of which is reproduced on page 28 of Janet A. Kaplan’s Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys (New York: Abbeville Press, 2000).
2 Janet A. Kaplan’s Remedios Varo: Unexpected Journeys (New York: Abbeville Press, 2000), 215.
3 Esperanto is an artificial language that Polish occultist L.L. Zamenhoff created in 1887 to serve as an international second language.
4 An exquisite corpse is a technique/game/drawing method developed by Surrealists as a means to access the unconscious and to produce bizarre, fantastic imagery.
5 For a chronology of Varo’s life see Walter Guen and Tere Arcq, “Cronología,” in Cinco llaves del mundo secreto de Remedios Varo (Mexico City: Artes de Mexico, 2008), 207-215.
6 Tere Arcq, “La llave esoterica: en busca de lo milagroso,” in Cinco llaves del mundo secreto de Remedios Varo (Mexico City: Artes de Mexico, 2008).
7 Ibid., 33.
8 Ibid., 39.

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Virgilio Garza
Virgilio Garza

Lot Essay

In a fading black and white photograph of a domestic interior, the tall shutters of a floor-to-ceiling window wide open, light pours in, falling across the youthful face of the Spanish-born Surrealist Remedios Varo, perhaps twelve or thirteen years of age at the time, as she looks directly at the camera; her right hand momentarily still, holds a needle, the left hand supports her embroidery. To the girl’s left, focused intently on her own work is Doña Josefa Zejalvo, Varo’s paternal grandmother, tiny, weathered, seated before her sewing machine. From this visual record is made clear the line of descent for Varo’s life-long fascination with threads, which are so key to her painting.1
Threads for Varo are more than spun fiber, but moonbeam and starlight, hair, streams of energy, roots, vines, the strings of instruments, fur and feather, and propellers of mechanical parts. With thread knitted, embroidered, woven, and certainly animated, Varo can render the invisible, visible as she does in La tejedora roja of 1956. Here, it is woman who holds “secret wisdom and special creative powers.”2 It is woman who can perform the creative act of bringing life into being. Ironically, in contradiction to the painting’s title, “la tejedora” (the one who knits) is not red at all, but rather, stone cold blue; she is more sculpturesque than made of flesh and bones. Magically, without a visible source, she produces a garment that inexplicably gains awkward, origami-like corporeality. Lacking gravity, the ethereal figure catches the wind, taking Chagallian flight.
Is the knitter and the knitted one and the same being? The cat offers a clue as her body unravels to form the ball of yarn that she guards under her outstretched paw. Surely, the cat is a “she,” as Varo’s cats so often take on her own feline appearance in her paintings. Yarn and cat are made of the same essence. Another clue…the very atmosphere outside of the window produces a skein of yarn that hangs from a ceiling hook awaiting generative hands. Limp silhouettes hang from additional, threatening hooks in the background, perhaps shadows, like Peter Pan’s, detached from their owners’ bodies, awaiting a seamstress’ talent. Varo’s meditations on the fabric that connects all of life were grounded, among other of her esoteric, alchemical, and occult interests, in the teachings of the Fourth Way of P.D. Ouspensky and George Gurdjieff, mystical teachings that she came into intimate contact with in Mexico City.
From the time of her birth on December 16, 1908 in the town of Anglés in Gerona, Spain, up to the age of nine, Varo’s life was rather nomadic as her father, a hydraulic engineer, moved the family throughout the country, and on to Tangiers and Casablanca, Morocco before settling in Madrid. Progressive and an Esperantist, he taught Varo to draw, encouraged her interest in science, and took her to museums.3 She enjoyed reading fiction writers Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, and the dark Edgar Allan Poe. From the mid to late 1920s enrolled in the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, she would venture to the Prado Museum where she studied the paintings of Francisco Goya, Hieronymus Bosch, and El Greco, important to her later work. In 1930 at the age of twenty-one, she married her classmate Gerardo Lizarraga; the two traveled to Paris for a year to further immerse themselves in Surrealist practice beyond what they already knew of Salvador Dali, Luis Buñuel, and Federico García Lorca. Installed in Barcelona from 1932-36, Varo separated from Lizarraga and drew close to artists José Luis Florit, Óscar Domínguez and Esteban Francés with whom she created cadaver exquis (exquisite corpse drawings) in true Surrealist experimental fashion.4 There she also met a new love, the poet Benjamin Péret; the two, with Francés in tow, fled the Spanish Civil War relocating in Paris where they participated in André Breton’s Surrealist circle meeting artists including Leonora Carrington, Alice Rahon, and Wolfgang Paalen, who would become her life-long companions. With the outbreak of World War II and the Nazi invasion of Paris, Péret and Varo boarded the Serpa Pinto on which they traveled by sea to Mexico arriving in December of 1941. They were welcomed as political refugees to their new homeland.5
In “La llave esoterica: en busca de lo milagroso,” independent curator Tere Arcq offers a close study of Varo’s relationship with The Fourth Way.6 The artist, in fact, held all of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky’s writings in her personal library. As Arcq points out, “In her canvases not only do we witness the creation of a universe in its internal and external structure, but she also shows us the relationship of the human being with that universe and their current and potential destinies.”7 Both Varo and her close friend Carrington participated in Ouspensky and Gurdjieff circles in Mexico City during the late 1940s and early 1950s. They befriended the British artist Christopher Fremantle and his wife Anne, who were Gurdjieff’s khalifas (representatives) in Mexico City. Interestingly, within the method Gurdjieff taught for attaining self-awareness and enlightenment, he emphasized the importance of manual labor, to include the meditative practices of sewing, spinning yarn, weaving, embroidery, and painting.8 These creative means Varo already knew well as a child through her grandmother’s example; she continued to develop imagery where she explored their power, not only in La tejedora roja, but in its sister painting La tejedora de Verona of the same year, and in Bordando el manto terrestre (1961), the central panel of her autobiographical, masterful triptych.
Teresa Eckmann, Associate Professor of Contemporary Latin American Art History, University of Texas at San Antonio

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