Ensayo de Juliana González (English)
Remedios Varo’s World And Fantasy World
Depth, when dealing with the soul, is a matter of understanding it in its widest scope, without scoring any of its shadows or its light (…) What an illusion to think it completely underground! (…) There is more depth in will than in instinct (…) Depth is there, where humankind commits its utmost, which only happens in the moment its highest power come into play…
Roger Caillois, Babel Chronicles
In clear contrast with the surrealist tendencies seeking “liberation” from the underground depths of unconscious desire, the art of Remedios Varo projects itself toward the opposite extreme: toward the supra-conscious understanding of a “superior” reality of consciousness and logic is surpassed or transcended in order for another world to appear, one possessing other laws, other spaces and other times, other matter and other logic: there where the impossible occurs; where bodies acquire a different corporality, where the most strange and inconceivable mixtures or combinations are produced; where the known world loses its familiarity to give way to something that, nonetheless, is not so completely other that it has nothing to say to us, or that it appears completely foreign and indifferent.
But, far from pursuing an automatism -or any other method- to let the dream images of the unconscious blossom (with all this entails of instinct, madness, decomposition and chaos, of cruelty and “ugliness”), Remedios consciously “constructs” (intuits?) an idealized world in which harmony and sublimity reign. Her painting tends toward the “cosmic”, not only because it seeks the keys to order, but because it is projected toward the terrestrial and celestial universe, beyond scientific reason and common reason, in order to unravel its secret plot and its Unity.
In this sense, it is the most literal sur-realism (suprarealism); to experience the state of supra-consciousness and supra-rationality, in which surrealist art is found, not through the paths of psychoanalysis, but through those of mysticism or esoteric religions and knowledge.
Although in Remedios’ case, the seeking is not found in the routes or cannons of any set creed, nor within the modality of “theism”. There are, in any case, quest that are inseparable from fantasy and poetry.
The most important fact here is sublimation. Sublimation, both in the original and chemical sense, as well as in the psychological sense -and the moral one and the artistic one, all somehow akin. That is to say: the transformation by which “solid bodies” become “volatized”, what thick, crude, dense, “evaporates”. (Sublimis: “elevated” in the air, in “the highest” ; sublimare: to heighten, to ennoble.)
In Remedios Varo’s painting, everything takes place in an atmosphere of extraordinary subtly. Everything tends to lose weight, gravity -as a physical phenomenon and also a spiritual one. Everything is light, soft, intimate and ethereal. There is an abundance of levitation, flights, ascents and “heights”. There are always birds and insects fluttering about. Cobblestones or floorboards rise and remain suspended.¹ The characters, al most asexual, almost incorporeal, are in the process of experiencing “ascendant” and “transcendent” events. The landscapes, the settings, the vestments, the objects are of a truly subtle, “volatile”, “energized”, “sublimated” materiality. Nothing there is ugly, vulgar, deformed, sordid or viscous. Evil, chaos, ugliness are transcended.Nothing is heart-wrenching or tragic. Everything takes place without violence. Sublimation as a form of salvation; as a means of transcending the cruelty, tastelessness, poverty, density and opacity of what is real.
And this fantastic “fantasy world” is expressed, in consequence, by means of certain constant formal resources: inexhaustible architectural invention, a fascination with perspectives, vertical lines, geometric forms, gothic elongations, the myths of arcades, columns, floor, trees and rivers; the perfectionism of drawing, of composition, of lights and transparencies, of textures and finishes. In the painting of Remedios Varo there is a unique clarity -a simplicity even-, achieved through the delicacy and distinctness of the scenes; through the persistence and even reiteration of the motifs, without in any way diminishing the imaginative richness; through the intelligibility, in short, the transparency and limpidity of the symbols themselves. Prodigy is not made patent through symbolic obscurity, but, on the contrary: clarity accentuates the mystery.
And indeed, Remedios did not belong to any specific esoteric “school” or “group”, nor did she follows any “ortho-doxy”. Her quest was always individual -lonely in fact-, very critical and skeptical in the face of so many trivializations and falsifications. This does not mean that she did not draw nourishment from the most diverse sources, taking from here and from there anything that seemed to contain genuine wisdom and, above all, reveal the existence of eternal and universal truths.
The Baghavad-Gita, the I Ching, The Golem; Ouspensky’s Tertium Organum, Hermann Hesse’s Glass Bead Game, Mount Analogue by René Daumal, The Morning of the Magicians by Pawels and Bergier; Zen Buddhism, Meister Eckhart, C.G. Jung; E. A. Poe, Saint-Exupéry, Ray Bradbury, Lovecraft, Einstein; the Kabbalah, the Tarot…, were books, authors and sources of knowledge that, in ones way or another, underlie her works or animated their creation.
But her own observations and experiences -internal and external- and even some domestic “experiments” were as important to Remedios as reading. Although her most important “organ of knowledge” was, moreover, the imagination and creative fantasy. Art is experienced by her as a true transcendent resource, not only an artistic one. As it could have been at some times during the Medieval period: it is a trade of salvation, of sapience and purification; artistic religious practice are assimilated in such a way that playing a musical instrument or embroidering a tapestry have spiritual ends, not merely aesthetic ones. Something like this also takes place in Zen Buddhism, when “serving tea” or “shooting an arrow” are paths for human awakening.
Hence, the search for a conceptual background of beliefs, of ideas: “believing” and “creating” are especially smelt together in Remedios Varo’s work. Her painting is special for its involving a “philosophical” and not only artistic meaning; a “literary” and not only plastic content. Although it is also indisputable that no “discourse” or conceptual explanation exhausts the meaning of the image, the strictly pictorial, aesthetic value is, indeed, irreducible. It manages to be simply “painting”.
If you do not expect the unexpected, you will not find it… (Heraclitus)
The great theme is cosmic unity and, as a consequence of it, the secret interconnections between worlds, the various levels of reality. Fantastic occurrences take place precisely when the invisible links, the intimate nearness of the distant or the interpretation of the various orders become explicit. Matter and energy, matter and spirit, the animate and apparently “inanimate”. Animal and vegetable life, music and stones, the Earth and the stars: everything is bound by relationships as close as they are unsuspected. One world may pass through another one, “spirits” and “ghosts” may come to life or the living may “become mimetized” and fuse with the inorganic -while the inert becomes “desperate” and acquires movement. Beings can later their own function and serve other purposes: the mermaid becomes a ship, hair becomes musical strings.² Intentions and volitions are materialized, as matter is “volatized” and takes on spiritual force. Magic, astrology, alchemy, animism, the “occult sciences”, become creative, sapient and playful fantasy.
Thus, a beam of light is music, cats are ferns: beings that are secretly in affinity coincide. Mantles extend into the ground making apart the continuity of matter.³ The shadow walks, followed by a “flat” body.⁴ There are lichen-trees, cathedrals that are forest, forests that are souls; characters hidden in trees; trees hidden in characters. The most unsuspected objects may take on a strength of their own, exhibit their internal dynamism. The spirit moves everything: clothing, beards, mustaches, stone-fossils, any vehicle or ship.⁵ Movement is a response to the psychic purpose or will; this is the main source of the miracle.
For remedios, as for the ancient sages, nature is written in numbers and surely contains a mysterious harmony and, ultimately, an essential coincidence of opposites. That is why the supreme task is a patient and silent quest for the basic “consonance” existing between geometric bodies, plants, mathematical formulas, sounds…The abstract and the concrete, the order of the corporeal and the intelligible. Ars combinatoria.⁶
Men are linked amongst themselves by invisible ties that, at the same time, join them to the stars. The moon can be “stolen”; the things of this world are made from stardust, miraculous “quintessence”.⁷ Birds are “created” on paper, by means both commonplace and marvelous: with a “brush”, together with a stringed instrument that hangs from the heart of a human owl; with “colors” filtered in strange stills that gather their “substance” from the sky, and with a beam of astral light, which is refracted through a triangular “magnifying glass”: and the bird flies. Not only does art “imitate” nature and life; they “imitate” “art” when the artist perceives and “reproduces” the essential unity of the universe.⁸ (Self-portrait? Most of the paintings are. Remedios is each and every one of these “seekers”, these “travelers”, these “officiants” and “makers of miracle”.)
The prodigy of life corresponds to the prodigy of creation. Art as the trade of miracles, of wonder. But this does not refer to a creation ex-nihilo, on the contrary. With “his breath” and with the “mobile” force of music that raises millenary fossils, the flutist (illuminated-magician) creates a sublime geometric cathedral. Matter and spirit fuse so that perfection may appear. Man is fused with vegetable life and the plants with the mountain. Trees are terrestrial and aquatic at the same time; union of the elements: earth-sea-sky; union of times in the creative act. The peaks of mountains and the craters underlie the miraculous event. Supreme moment of fantasy and religious experience of the artist-poet. Masterpiece.⁹
All Remedios Varo’s prodigies occur, indeed, in a unique space-time: perhaps in truly profound dimensions of temporality and spatiality; they are, of course, testimonials of essentially qualitative experiences and perceptions. They take place, in any event, beyond “worldly” time and space.
They tend to happen in solitary places, immensely lonely, silent and distant; abandoned places: where the roots have delved deep and fractured the walls.Sleeping cities, or towns turned inward. Streets and stairways where papers fly. Nocturnal, autumnal or winter forests. Illuminated nights; secret and silent persistence of life. “Fantasy world” oceans.
Much time has passed there: long, slow processes of waiting. The absence of everything, in order for the prodigy to appear, for life itself to reveal its miraculous essence. The bird that nests, the foliage that grows, the snail that advances… Immense duration. You can see the “passage of time”. Absence and time.¹⁰
Clock aways stop at an absolute moment so that the clockmaker can gaze in awe upon the truth of Time, which is paradoxically ciphered in its essential “relativity”… What are human times, those time “prisons”, in the face of the great Revelation?.¹¹
Certainly space-time forms the solid weaving of the world, that invisible fabric that holds everything together, “caged” even.¹² Moreover, for Remedios Varo, there is a perfect net of causality, or rather of casual predetermination, that is the explanation for the Supreme Order, beyond what reason or common science even suspect. Destiny is perhaps the central “character” in her works.
But it appears that there are also two levels of transcendence and prodigy for her: one in which it is in fact manifested, when causal ties that the ordinary eye cannot see are brought to light, or when those very hidden nets of destiny are glimpsed. Another, on the other hand, -that of radical and definitive transcendence-, is the one in which one can escape the fatal unfolding of destiny -not without an effective dominion over the threats of fatum.
Thus, between the rigid and uniform group of the “weavers” or “embroiderers”of the “earthly mantle”, one of them stands out, individualized, ready to 2cheat” and introduce her own thread in order to “escape” through the mysterious threshold in the company of her beloved.
(On one side of the earthly city, her own silhouette appears waiting for her lover; he “fatally” approaches from the other side of the “mantle”; and, once joined, the ascension and “escape”take place.) Extraordinary “salvation” -doubly prodigious- since the lovers, the couple, are both saved, and not just the lone individual.¹³
However, not all Remedios Varo’s characters are the final moment of transcendence. Many of them are undergoing the process of “initiation” or are only just receiving with true awesome amazing sign that they cannot comprehend. In general, there is no lack of observers amazed by a phenomenon, as fantastic as it is unexpected, which has arisen in his or her path…¹⁴ (Nor is the all perceiving cat lacking.) Or the fearful seeker approaches, only to stop in fascination before the mysterious tower in which the owl and the fox guard the mysteries of being and promise ti reveal a secret teaching.¹⁵ Characters appear everywhere with marvelous “interiors” that “inhibit” their “solar plexus”: the yin and the yang, the double “feminine” of the male (the corresponding animus or anima), the infinite thread, the translucent sphere, the forest without end of he who begins to “break the vicious circle”…¹⁶
The miracle is of al sorts; levitations, unusual abductions, phantasmal presences, cups and glasses that infinitely overflow, astral-juggling games of the wise “thaumaturge”.¹⁷ The spirits of the dead and of other mysterious beings hidden in walls and fences, suddenly make an “appearances”. What was solid is fragmented or unraveled like old cloth. A latent life emerges into the light with all of its warmth and clarity, after remaining hidden for centuries or millennia, under layers and layers of “matter”.¹⁸
Most important are voyages and travelers; everything is transit, passage, path, flight, navigation, exploration, adventure, mysterious displacements and “calls”.
The foremost “conduit” is the river, the inner canals of the “spiral city”, distant seas; sometimes also the earth and its arid roads, sometimes the snow. And anything may be a “vehicle”: especially one’s own vestments. Everything moves, everything unites: wheels, candles, propellers, levers, pulleys, fantastic machines.¹⁹
Finally, one comes to the source of the prodigy: the luminous pearl of “inner unity”; the magic cup that flows infinitely. All as in a game; without great solemnity; like a playful exploration.²⁰
However, Remedios Varo’s art manages also to express the profound essences of the journey of the initiate and its intrinsic difficulty. The voyage is a free “ascent”: against the current, against gravity, moved only by an “inner force”, the destination being “Mount Analogue”: that other dimension that only appears to the sage “mountain climber” able to transcend by his own strength, with no sails but those of his mantle, on a fragile bark.²¹
The path may, indeed, be “arid” and take a long time; a “geological” time, stratified. The millenary journey of man seeking wisdom: from the deepest layers of the Earth.²²
Finally, remedios knows how many false “ruptures” and pseudo-liberations can occur, how many contradictory movements paralyze the soul, how much attachment to the world, and above all, how that attachment and those contradictions are inevitable and even wise.
Frequently, then, the characters reveal “another self”, dark and sordid, opposed to the luminosity of “consciousness”. in contrast with the one who manages to embroider her own liberation, another woman “waves” her youth and her freedom, but her own hand grabs a beam and prevents her from leaving.²³ Another female figure peacefully goes about discovering hidden life, as an opaque and aggressive face violently breaks trough behind her.²⁴ A “vagabond” reveals the irony of the unliberated: he travels “firmly” and “alone”, but in his clothing-room he carries a picture, a frying pan, a flowerpot: everything that binds him to the world and to his “home”.²⁵ Lovers say farewell and move away, but their shadows return and join in a kiss.²⁶ A woman frees herself of her “Oedipus complex”, which she throws away as she leaves the psychoanalyst, but she keeps a basket of objects linking her to her childhood, including “the clock”.²⁷
The artist disapproves of intermediate states: leaving and not leaving, breaking and not making a break; the humorous criticism of trivial and very “solemn” mundane ways: the caretakers of the “aqua aurea”. What does the cup really hold? Could it not be an ordinary “liquid”, one which is only “noble” by virtue of belonging to “his majesty”?.²⁸ Laughing at false pretenses and human deceits. Pseudo love: a narcissistic game of mirrors: each one of the romantic “lovers” beholds him herself raptly in the mirror-face of the “beloved”.²⁹
There are, however, beyond these games and ironies, beyond the happy divertimento of Remedios Varo’s painting, an underlying note that seems to allude to a profound sadness of the world; this is expressed precisely in those cloudy, winter atmospheres that are immensely somber and desolate; in deserted streets, in those forest of dry trunks, lacking all signs of life. The men that are not “called” seem to be half dead, fused in uniform robes, gray, indifferent, without light or color; some completely petrified.³⁰ Monotony, mimetisms, narcissistic repetitions of the same thing are present, and everywhere, there are “vicious circle”.³¹ The opacity and emptiness of the world is made patent.
The moon itself is the object of the most fearful amazement when it appears reflected, or rather “contained” in a strange duo kept in an abandoned place. Is this to point out the ironic danger of mistaking “the moon” for “the finger pointing at the moon”? Is it rather an exaltation of the presence “here” of that which is far, or the enrichment of “the real” in “the symbolic”?³²
Remedios Varo’s paintings also seem to take a peculiar and no less ironic delight in “non liberation”: a real taste for the literal “wonders” of this world, for belonging to the Earth, which is never really abandoned in her warmth, kindness and vitality. The Earth is also inhabited by astral and celestial elements. Perhaps at bottom it is no more than a beautification of this world; taking away its closed confines; knowing it open to physical and spiritual dimensions that are truly profound and sublime, perceiving the “marvelously real” here (as in Alejo Carpentier’s appraisal of Latin American reality). World and fantasy world are also interwoven in Remedios Varo’s paintings.
And even in the setting (close to science fiction) of a world charred by an atomic explosion, the miracle of life reappears for Remedios, the prodigy of a wonderful flower. The being that survives -that, we may hope, will be a mutant insect- contemplates the fantastic manifestation in fascination, the prodigy whose mystery he is about to fathom. Thus, the triumph of amazement, of curiosity, the spirit of observation and experimentation are expressed. What lives on is a humanity that is awake, seeking, investigating; immortal human science born of awe and wonder.³³
In Remedios Varo, art is unquestionably redeeming. Since, more than art, it is wisdom, it is a way of practicing purification and an instrument of perception and knowledge. It is a talisman. Yet it is also true that in Remedios Varo, wisdom is more than wisdom; it is poetry, an imaginary game and pure art.
1- Still Life Reviving, Cat. 361. ●Boy and Butterfly, Cat. 319. ●Magic Flight, Cat. 149. ●Bankers in Action, Cat. 335. ●Phenomenon of Weightlessness, Cat. 359. ●Phenomenon, Cat. 337.
2- Troubadour, Cat. 251.
3- Solar Music, Cat. 129. ●The Cat Fern, Cat. 202. ●Forest Music, Cat. 364. ●Useless Science or The Alchemist, Cat. 122.
4- Phenomenon, Cat. 337.
5- Still Life Reviving, Cat. 361. ●Enchanted Knight, Cat. 321. ●Sympathy Cat, Cat. 136. ●Hairy Locomotion, Cat. 246. ●Twisted Roads, Cat.167. ●Women´s Tailor, Cat. 179.
6- Unsubmissive Plant, Cat. 311.
7- Three Destinies, Cat. 146. ●The Task, Cat. 111. ●Portrait of Dr. Ignacio Chávez, Cat. 192. ●Star Catcher, Cat. 163. ●Celestial Pablum, Cat. 213.
8- Creation of the Birds, Cat. 171.
9- The Flutist, Cat. 127.
10- To Be Reborn, Cat. 289. ●Rupture, Cat. 132. ●Visit of the Past, Cat. 206. ●The Escarpment, Cat. 330.
11- Revelation or The Clockmaker, Cat. 118.
12- Weaving of Space and Time, Cat. 110. ●Microcosm or Determinism, Cat. 235. ●Three Destinies, Cat. 146.
13- Triptych: Towards the Tower, Cat. 303. ●Embroidering The Earth’s Mantle, Cat. 304. ●The Escape, Cat. 306.
14- Aurora, Cat. 348. ●Towards Aquarius, Cat.316. ●Skier, Cat. 293. ●Phenomenon, Cat. 337.
15- Playing Hooky, Cat, 342.
16- Hermit, Cat. 124. ●Personage, Cat. 247. ●Premonition, Cat. 106. ●The Threads of Fate, Cat. 151. ●Skier, Cat. 293. ●Breaking the Vicious Circle, Cat. 346.
17- The Juggler, Cat. 154.
18- Emerging Light, Cat. 350. ●Visit to the Past, Cat. 206 ●Invocation, Cat.357. ●Coincidence, Cat. 267. ●Immured Figures, Cat. 218.
19- Astral Locomotion, Cat. 355. ●Spiral Transit, Cat. 334. ●Vegetal Cathedral, Cat. 173. ●Roulotte, Cat. 133. ●Aquatic Taxi, Cat. 353. ●Skier, Cat. 329.
20- Discovery, Cat. 138. ●Exploration of the Sources of the Orinoco River, Cat. 249.
21- Ascension to Mount Analogue, Cat. 286.
22- The Arid Path, Cat. 332.
23- Weaver of Verona, Cat. 142.
24-Disturbing Presence, Cat. 259.
25- Vagabond, Cat. 190.
26- Farewell, Cat. 211.
27- Woman Leaving the Psychoanalyst, Cat. 292.
28- Expedition to the Aqua Aurea, Cat. 341.
29- The Lovers, Cat. 356.
30- The Juggler, Cat. 154. ●The Call, Cat. 329.
31- Encounter, Cat. 253.
32- To Be Reborn, Cat. 289.
33- Discovery of a Mutant Geologist, Cat. 308.