Unexpected Journeys: The Art and Life of Remedios Varo by Janet A. Kaplan

The adventures that fill the strange and wonderful paintings by Remedios Varo (1908-1963) reflect the physical and psychological journeys of her own tumultuous life.

Raised in a strict Spanish family and rigorously trained in academic art, Varo first found escape in Barcelona's bohemian avant-garde. After fleeing the Spanish Civil War with the poet Benjamin Peret, later her husband, she entered the inner circle of the Surrealists in Paris. Forced to flee again by the Nazis, she and Peret faced a year of mounting danger in Marseilles before securing passage to Mexico. Finding welcome refuge in Mexico City, where she remained until her death, Varo produced the extraordinary paintings for which she gained renown.

Janet A. Kaplan's vivid chronicle, the first on the subject in English, weaves Varo's life with the artist's exquisite work. Painted with a jewellike palette and old-master precision, Varo's intimate tableaux, rich with details of women's experience, tell fantasy tales of alchemy, science, mysticism, and magic. Fifty color reproductions capture the wit and beauty of her major paintings; numerous black and white illustrations document other works and portray the compelling artist with her circle of lifelong friends and admirers. The book is further enlivened by her own voice, conveyed in hilarious letters and surreal stories, published here for the first time. It concludes with an invaluable chronology as well as a newly updated bibliography and list of exhibitions.

A woman of intense magnetism and powerful imagination, Varo had been little known outside Mexico, but she has recently found enthusiastic audiences in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Japan. Thefascinating story of her life and the dazzling intricacy of her art will prove a revelation.

Other Details: 198 illustrations, 50 in full color 288 pages 7 x 7"

waistcoat as a boat? What if plants sprouted the chemical formula of photosynthesis instead of leafy green foliage? Each hypothesis allowed for the possibility of new discoveries—discoveries of nature, discoveries of the self. With the distinct perspective of a woman of Spanish upbringing and surreal inclination working in Latin America, she explored the world while inventing alternatives to it.

Friends are quick to recall Varo's wit and observant intelligence, but they also remember her as an anxious woman deeply scarred by deprivations and relocations in Spain and France. As a child, she had enjoyed fantasies of travel and adventure; as an adult, however, she suffered the contingencies of war and exile. Much of her emphasis on the traveler and the journey, on ominous encounters with menacing figures can be seen as her way of exorcising the adult terrors while indulging the childhood fantasies. Exiled from her homeland, she embarked on a pilgrimage, now internalized, to find more permanent, more stable roots.

Most of Varo's personages bear the delicate heart-shaped face with large almond eyes, long sharp nose, and thick mane of lively hair that marked the artist's own appearance. The personae she created thus serve as self-portraits transmuted through fantasy. Despite her warning—"I do not wish to talk about myself because I hold very deeply the belief that what is important is the work, not the person"—so much of the work is metaphorically autobiographical that exploring the interplay between her life and her art is essential to understanding her significance.

"A unique and inspiring visual journey." —Artforum

"Kaplan has written a lively, informative narrative that zips along like an adventure story." —The Philadelphia Inquirer

"This beautifully written and illustrated book, full of wonders, is a joy to read and behold... This journey through the art and life of Remedios Varo with Janet Kaplan as guide is art history and art criticism at its best." —Belles Lettres

Author Biography: With the support of the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Rockefeller Foundation, and Moore College of Art, Janet A. Kaplan traveled through Spain, France, Morocco, and Mexico, tracking the life of Varo and interviewing dozens of the artist's friends and family. Dr. Kaplan, who received her Ph.D. from Columbia University, lectures and writes on topics related to twentieth-century and contemporary art, with special emphasis on women's issues and art and politics. A resident of Philadelphia, she is professor of art history at Moore College of Art and Design, on the graduate faculty at the MFA in Visual Art program at Vermont College, and executive editor of Art Journal, a publication of the College Art Association.

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