Friday, October 5, 2012

The wonder striking world of Remedios Varo

One of the happy circumstances of ordering online for prospective books is forgetting that you have done so and there in your in-box is a note telling you that something no longer expected is on its way.

In this case it is a copy of 'Remedios Varo: The Mexican Years': a new book on this remarkable Spanish painter who lived for most of her life in exile in Mexico.

She began as a 'Surrealist' and is often described as remaining one. However, in her case, as with many artists touched and moved by surrealist impulse and experimentation, she developed a more disciplined, highly conscious art of the imagination.

It was an art saturated by a highly eclectic and personal spiritual vision that is both enchanting and difficult to read in any other language than its own.

It can (as above) be delightfully whimsical - cats, creatures of contained contentment, inhabiting their own quasi-medieval world where the wind is harnessed to the simple pleasures of a playful mobile. Each cat is uniquely themselves in a pastoral, contemplative space.

It can, however, be more pregnant with significance as here. The power of music assembles a mystical tower whose straight staircase ascends into a starry, gold touched cosmos. Art is a making after a transcendent meaning and is magically transformative. Where does sacred music take you if not out of your self and into a heavenly ascent?

Her art is woven from a deep and playful engagement with unfamiliar patterns of knowledge - the esoteric, the alchemic and the magical (as was true of her great friend and fellow 'surrealist' Leonora Carrington) and yet you do not need to be a student of similar paths to be attracted and haunted by her paintings. This is because those paths point to something intrinsically true about our selves, our humanity.

The Catholic artist and poet, David Jones, asked: "What is the language of our effect signs?" His concern was that the rich language of traditional religion that itself was embedded in a wider culture (of history and myth) was increasingly inaccessible and unacknowledged. If your viewer does not know the myth and legend, say, of the daffodil, in its complexity, is not your art, your painting of the Queen of Heaven daffodil in hand, reduced?

To which the answer is both yes and no. Yes because there is no easy way of sharing your response to a painting either with a wider tradition or history and within that with one another. There is a difficult task of conscious reclamation - of learning, rather than living within, the symbolism. No because whether we 'know' or not the specific symbolic language, we do live in that world (in however unrecognised a way) to which the painting testifies. We may not know the language but it calls to us and we are moved. The image touches our depths before it reaches our surfaces, our interpretations.

Remedios Varo's art is a continuing testament to our depths showing that we are made for a world of wonder and contemplation. A world that continually retains its mystery.

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