A friend recently asked me to explain surrealism. Rather than send him a Wikipedia article, I said that surrealism needed to be explained with florid hand gestures and audiovisual aids. I then remembered going through my art books with another friend just a few days prior, and discovering a mutual love of the painter Remedios Varo. So in lieu of an explanation, I decided that a few of Ms. Varo's artworks would be the best introduction I could provide.
In some ways, knowing about Varo is like belonging to a secret club or being a subject of her paintings. As far as surrealism goes, she's not nearly as well known as her former classmate, Salvador Dalí. Compared to other women artists of this time period, she is overshadowed by Frida Kahlo. I was lucky enough to be clued in to her work on a visit to the Mexican Fine Arts Center Museum—now the National Museum of Mexican Art—ten years ago. Several years later, with a couple of free hours in Mexico City, I discovered that the entire second floor of the Museo de Arte Moderno was an exhibit of her work. And on a re-read of the labyrinthine The Crying of Lot 49, Varo's work is an important plot device in the enlightenment of the protagonist.
If you're interested in discovering more about this fascinating artist, there are several websites out there, especially The Hungry Flower. If you're ready for more art like it, check out Leonora Carrington. If you're skeptical about what place surrealism or art in general has in a busy lifestyle, this essay about The Call (pictured at right) is a must-read. While you may not become a devotee of Remedios Varo, you may find it difficult to see the world the same way again.