Last Saturday became a day devoted to being in the inspired present and soul feeding at LACMA, Los Angeles’s vibrant and ever changing county museum.
Reveling in the joy of artistic discovery at – In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and The United States.
The single gender beautifully curated show of 175 works representing the art of 47 female artists. The exhibition includes paintings, photographs, drawings and sculpture of female surrealists delving into their own subconscious and dreams creating extraordinary works created from 1920 – 1970. In the 20’s to 30’s was a time when women were were not acknowledge by the establishment, artistic or otherwise.
Surrealism was partly exported across the Atlantic by artists fleeing Hitler. Its North American reception takes a variety of forms. Mexico’s mysticism, inflected by Pre-Columbian and Catholic cultures contrast the stark puritan roots of North America.
In viewing the show I was struck by many of the works and how the artists featured themselves in the interior of a dwelling, a metaphor for the feminine, a place where many women of that time spent most of their lives. The surrealist women transcended traditional cultural norms of wife, muse to men and homemaker. Through the freedom of self-expression, surrealist’s found a voice for the pain they experienced and of the cultural oppression of women.
Beautiful sorceress and alchemists are depicted with mythical creatures and goddesses, one is struck by the exploratory awakening power of the feminine in many of the works.
My greatest discovery at the show was the paintings of Remedios Varo a little known Spanish artist in exile, fleeing to Mexico in 1940 to avoid Nazi occupation.
I have decided to feature the work Varo exclusively in this post. Her subject matter, style of painting and artistic vision was extraordinary. In the years she painted these works she was supported by her husband Walter Gruen, an Austrian emigre who made a small fortune and told her, “If you want, all you have to do is paint.” Paint is what she did, creating large, intricate canvases using a brush with only three bristles.
Harmony ~ In “Harmony,” the distinctly androgynous scientist is seeking to create a “theory of everything,” using a musical staff, as an organizing device. “What she’s doing, uniquely among artists, is presenting this core moment of discovery that’s so exciting in science, she realized that this central act of the imagination in science, this free play of the mind, is very similar to what artists do.”
The scientist strings onto the staff vegetables, animals, stones, pyramids, a scrap of paper with pi written out to six digits she is co-creating with the Energy of Creation emerging from the wall as a goddess, an essential ingredient to every Scientific and Artistic Success.
Elements of the natural world are linked together beautifully in creative harmony on the musical staff.
In a lecture Dr. Friedman discussed the appeal Ms. Varo holds for scientists and engineers. He described how the artist metaphorically conveyed in her paintings some of the most revolutionary and complex scientific theories of the age, from Einstein’s special theory of relativity and Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection to the premise that humans are the stuff of stars, their bodies built of elements baked in solar bellies millions or billions of years ago.
Celestial Pablum ~ Sacred Geometry and Alchemy fascinated Varo, In this painting a goddess is seated in a alchemical meditation inside a geometric chamber made of a single crystal, pulling down stars and transforming them into pablum to feed a caged moon.
Mimesis ~ A woman with heart shaped hair is sitting motionless for so long she has merged with the chair. Varo was especially interested in meditation. The paintings meaning is ambiguous. Is the domestic space the site of spiritual transformation, or is it a negative, confining place where a woman disappears into the furniture? The painting displays Varo’s characteristic humor.
“The Creation of Birds” ~ Here, Ms. Varo portrays the three ingredients necessary for the origin of life: A woman has transformed into a wise owl and is seated next to A Rube Goldberg-type apparatus creating matter, from collecting stardust formed by stellar fusion, deep in the interior of stars and thus transforms into paint for the birds, next she harnesses the energy of the moonlight beaming through a magnified glass in to the page. Lastly the anti-entropy principle, represented by the Owl Woman’s cardio-violin with a string connecting her heart to her hand giving life to the page, creating the birds as they fly away.
In viewing and researching the life and works of Remedios Varo, I have the sense that she had a profound, well studied understating of the depth of life. She used her depth of knowledge to create masterworks and share to her deeper understanding of mysticism and the alchemy of creation. Supported by a man who could truly see and honor her feminine gift’s and talents, she was a woman with heart shaped hair. Truly blessed, leaving a positive empowered feminine legacy through her magnificent paintings. The In-Wonderland exhibition continues through May 6 2012 at LACMA
Remedios Varo ~ December 16, 1908 – October 8, 1963