Friday, November 13, 2015

The Light Fantastic Toe

An essay I wrote about the short video, Hallberg At Work
            Music composer Ólafur Arnald and dancer David Hallberg create a dreamlike landscape in Hallberg At Work, directed by Erik K. Yue and choreographed by Marcelo Gomes. Bustling urban music plays in a plain high-rise studio as the world famous dancer shares this intimate experience – someone who is used to being on a stage with others in a vast theater filled with people; now solitary in front of a camera taking a closer look. Through the dance between Hallberg and the lens, we are instantly magnetized and can only watch the photography follow his lead, like how a fumbling, yet talented novice would follow a master.
            The camera starts at a distance and in a sweeping motion that seems almost like a dance move itself, it comes close and lingers, hanging on Hallberg’s every move. With slippery, shifting angles Hallberg’s joints seem highly lubricated, and the camera appears tentative, nearly insecure, in contrast to the dancer's smooth agility and confidence as it attempts to keep up, capture and understand this coryphée.
            There appears to be natural light pouring in from outside, filling the studio with quiet dusk, which lends to the picture an affected lonesome quality and makes the dancer seem more isolated. The studio is deserted and Hallberg strives mightily to trip the light fantastic by filling the void with his body.
            As the dancer relishes in his introversion, forgetting the camera in general, the energy shifts from somber and melancholy to a kind of determined force, the music and dance expressing a sense of exhaustion with the motivation to overcome.
            This may be why the framing appears careless in places. I find it hard to understand why the photographer would shoot allHallberg with such sincere interest, taking the time to idle in the dancer’s pause, it’s focus suspended on the tip of a finger, or the distant look in the eyes, and yet cut off his feet. I must assume that there is intent and not dismissal; that we should see that the camera just cannot keep up with the master dancer; that in its desperate attempts to preserve a sense of complimentary pacing, it loses track altogether.           
            Nevertheless, I want to fall on the tip of the toes and follow a kick and the swoop of a heel, but the movements are cut off from the inattentive lens. On the other end there is seemingly endless headspace, filling the void between our dancer and the ceiling. The oddly placed negative space is distracting, as would a neophyte dancer be in the midst of an expert.
            The spinning blur is effective as Hallberg is lost in the circular gesture, his arms raised in release; the loss of focus expresses this discharge of energy. As if we are caught up in the dancers relief, the camera snaps to attention when he rushes from his spot; and in a whirlwind of continuous motion the dancer unwinds, almost unsure himself of what to do next; lost in a momentary distraction, a thought we are not invited to see. The camera seems to reflect that disorientation, and in respect for Hallberg’s privacy, the lens turns away with no particular interest in anything else.
            As the dancer becomes adrift, absent-minded of its partner, the camera, too, loses itself in deliverance from motion. The two separate after the climax, like intertwined bodies no longer clinging to each other; leaving the dance and lengthening the space between; the camera now in the afterglow of this captivating experience.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Keep Calm and Head to the Highlands

            Last October, my husband and I went on our honeymoon to the United Kingdom.  I had never been anywhere outside of the United States (Unless you count a childhood trip to the Mexican border that I barely remember), and had always wanted to go to England and Scotland… Needless to say, I took my trip very seriously and spent several months before our departure preparing.
            Preparation consisted of reading several books on Britain – of course Rick Steve’s “Great Britain” was read and re-read.  As part of a wedding present, which also included money to spend on our honeymoon, some friends of ours gave us a book on “Eccentric London,” which was full of tasty tidbits of the darker and weirder side of the town.
All the murder by gaslight and gastropub locations you can handle.
            I could not tell you how many reviews I read on everything from centuries-old pubs to cozy bed and breakfasts.  I spent hours every day poring over everything I could find from Bath to York and from Edinburgh to the Isle of Skye.  I researched Tube etiquette, how to keep from being seen as a dumb tourist (which totally didn’t work) and money conversions.  Reading all about how polite the Brits are considered to be, how quiet on the trains they allegedly are and how difficult and unnecessary it is to rent a car and drive yourself anywhere – all of my expectations were turned on their side as once we actually got there I experienced total culture shock.

Take us to our hotel, mum.
            I say “once” we got there and I literally mean that. 
            From the moment we stepped off the plane it was pushing, shoving, running with luggage while ghastly glares poured out of sullen and surly faces During the better part of the afternoon and evening the London Underground is a frightful place.  "Keep to the right!" the signs yelled, so I clung with all my might to the greasy rubbery handrail as I clutched my over-packed suitcase and struggled with my weighty backpack.
"Gerald is the man you murdered in the subway.
We thought it best you didn't see him as he's a fresh kill and still pretty messy."
            Things have clearly improved since Friedrich Engel was inspired to write The Condition of the Working Class in England, yet, still packed like sardines, many of the people of London seem to thrive on crushing physical oppression and the rushrushrushrush to wait like the rest of us.  And boy do they hate to wait.  Patience is not a virtue in dear historical London, where eyes will not meet yours unless in some sort of willful, expressionless staring contest - possibly a passive-aggressive action performed for the sole purpose of unnerving you.  But they wouldn’t dare tell you what they really think…
            The Londoners who crossed our paths (or vice versa) were “polite.” They would rather die than openly admit their feelings about anything.  They'll acknowledge your existence if they must, but they’ll do it with disdain, looking upon you with contempt.  Their cordiality is an affectation, it is mannered, and it is false.  Either that or I am way more uncool than I thought.
            One of the only Londoners whom we found delightful was a woman from the States.  We were invited to the British Museum by an archaeologist and curator who worked in the Canary Islands with my father-in-law, and we received the “backstage pass” version of an ancient Egyptian artifacts tour.  We saw a lot of very old and valuable items, but what stuck with me was the long hallway of Sekhmet statues.
Many Sekhmets
            Being that Sekhmet is the goddess of war and healing, her cult – suffering drought and hunger – figured if they created a statue of her (one for every day of the year) she would smile favor upon them.  I’m not exactly sure how many of them were made, but the British Museum has almost a hundred of them in their basement.  Each lioness-esque statue is anywhere between six and ten feet tall.  
            We also spent a lot of time on the trains.
I love a train station.
            Between the plane, the Tube and the trains, we spent a lot of time traveling.  While on the trains (or a van in one instance) traveling through the countryside (even though I longed to get out and hike through those golden hills) was magical.  What a way to see it all in a short amount of time!  I was looking forward to the next leg of our trip.
            Don’t get me wrong – I was enthralled with London’s architecture; the ancient history mixed with innovative modern designs was… magical, and my memory of the Thames will be forever locked away in my heart.  On our last day I was taking pictures on the Millennium Bridge across the river from the Tate; the air smelled sweetly of candy roasted cashews (for two pounds), and we swayed slightly and soundlessly, except for vapid voiced complaints about the ugliness of it all and our trite photographic desires. 
"You take for granted what is right under your nose,"
I called out to the shrill tinkle left mingling in the sweet frosty air.
            Once we got up to York the environment completely changed.  Perhaps, because it is a touristy place where people from all over Great Britain come to visit, there was enough diversity of personality types to give it a charm that London did not have.  (My husband blames the attitude of Londoners on their classic imperialist arrogance.)  That whole area - not just The Shambles - had some of the neatest streets and buildings I have ever seen (a close second to Edinburgh which is just, wow).
            We stayed two days in York at the most popular bed and breakfast I could find on  It was in a quiet area run by cheerful folks who had a massive Great Dane and provided a deliciously authentic English/Scottish breakfast.  We liked York and when we visit the UK again, we will be going back.
In all it's cute shambled glory.
            It was Scotland, however, where I left my heart.  I felt as if the land itself opened its arms and held me tight like old family I had not seen in years.  The wet and rainy Highlands seemed to weep endlessly and the energy of its people expressed a sort of melancholy joy that I immediately related to and by which I felt comforted.  They were witty and not as urbane as some Londoners, who came off as so properly affected.  The Scots were not only welcoming, but also they were warm, and kind and boy do they know how to cook!  (The only food that tasted good in England also came with a plateful of grease.)
But it tasted soooo good...
            The woods, thick and pretty, are painted with pink heather and wet bark so black that it makes the color of the leaves pop.  Moss covers all, which can be pretty slippery if you aren't wearing the right shoes (and I did take a pretty bad spill in Crofter's Woods), but when you're lying on your back looking up at all that majesty, it's pretty hard to quibble about a wee tumble.
            Edinburgh and Sterling are also quite high on my list of Places I Want to Spend the Rest of My Life.  Edinburgh reminded me of a much older, European Portland and Sterling is a lovely quaint town with a lively urban atmosphere.  Glasgow was neat, but all the child alcoholics tripped me out.  I cried when we left Scotland.

You would too...
            It took me the better part of a month to get over the jet lag and get used to being back in the States.  For a long time I was bitter towards London and the realization that no matter how much I researched the culture I could never have been prepared for how… different it was than what I expected.  And therein lies the problem, doesn’t it?  Expectations.  You know what they say about assuming… 

            All in all I must say I had an amazing time – I learned SO much (our trip to the British Museum deserves an essay all on its own) and I now understand with significance all that I had no idea I was so ignorant of before.  
NOTE:  All photos are my own and taken with either my Fuji Finepix SL1000 or my iPhone.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Unconditional Love and the Psyche: Moral Ambiguity in Wuthering Heights

            A reader of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights may find him or herself asking how an introverted young woman of little worldly experience could have come up with such a passionate and psychologically layered story - especially in the face of the various contradictory disclaimers made by her sister, Charlotte, who, after Emily’s death, made excuses in her grief-stricken state to silence what she, Charlotte, perceived as a barrage of criticism that came with the publication of the novel.  These disclaimers were unnecessary, however, because “literary critics repeatedly acknowledged its originality, genius and imaginative power – if they also complained about its moral ambiguity” (Murfin, 334). 
            What some readers may not know is that, while Brontë may have spent most of her life in Haworth, a small town in the Yorkshire moors of northern England, she also studied French in Belgium, was more educated than most of the men with whom her family associated, even had a stint teaching and for a time had plans with Charlotte to open up a school.  She could read and write in several languages – including Greek – she wrote poetry and stories from an early age and she had an innate understanding of the most bizarre aspects of human nature. 
            Along with an obsession she had with her father’s “Irish tales of violence and horror” (Robinson, 18), Brontë witnessed the emotional instability of her brother, and it is likely because of these things that she “cared more for fairy tales, wild, unnatural [and] strange fancies” (Robinson, 27).  This is clearly evident in her novel, Wuthering Heights, which centers around several characters, some of whom could be seen as aspects of one of the most important people in her life, her brother, Branwell Brontë.  It is “as if the novel, like an illustration of Freud’s ‘Das Unheimlische,’ were about ‘the danger of being haunted by alien versions of the self,’” only instead of herself, they are of her brother (Gilbert, 381).  Although possibly as a result of her repressed feelings, Brontë’s “strange fancies” emerged in a creative form – the act of writing. 
           Aside from her father, the closest man to Emily was her brother.  While Charlotte was away at school, Emily and Branwell were the eldest two of the surviving siblings, and they spent most of their days together.  Theirs was a yin-yang type of relationship, as “Emily and Branwell…were most to each other: bright, shallow, exacting brother; silent, deep-brooding, unselfish sister, more anxious to give than to receive” (Robinson, 45).  When his lover abandoned him for financial security and a good reputation, and he went over the edge and persisted in killing himself with alcohol and laudanum, “it was [Brontë] who, more than the others, became familiarized with the agony, and doubts, and shame of that tormented soul” (Robinson, 126). 
          Although Brontë acted as her brother’s unselfish guardian angel – consistently dragging him home from the pub after nights of drinking, saving him from dying in the bed he drunkenly set on fire in his sleep (Robinson, 127) and showing him patience when nobody else would – she was, perhaps unwittingly, storing up information to be used for several characters in one of the most studied books in literary history. 
           Branwell treated his family cruelly during this time, but Emily was forgiving and stood by his side with compassion when nobody else did; “it was she who saw most of her abandoned brother, for Anne could only shudder at his sin, and Charlotte was too indignant for pity” (Robinson, 147).  From the very beginning of Wuthering Heights, we can see the idea of forgiveness of one’s brother, as when Lockwood dreams of the “First of the Seventy-First” (Bronte, 41), which is an allusion to “The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant” in the Bible:
"Then Peter came unto him, and said, Lord how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I shall forgive him? Till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, until seven times: but until seventy times seven” (NIV Bible, Matthew 18: 21-35).
If we look closer into Brontë’s life and at her relationship with her brother, we will find that, while Wuthering Heights may come off as morally ambiguous, Emily herself was a courageous and charitable woman who “had a place in her heart for all the wild children of nature, and to despise them for their natural instincts was impossible to her” (Robinson, 147).  It was because of this unconditional love Brontë had for Branwell that she was able to create a villain such as Heathcliff, a character too unnaturally cruel for some, but redeemed as a sort of Byronic hero for others. 
Heathcliff cares for nothing else other than a woman who left him for money and security.  As long as he lives without her he will suffer bitterly, poisoning everyone else around him in the process.  Heathcliff is ultimately found redeemable by many readers because of this unconditional love for Catherine, the woman he literally could not live without. 
Branwell, too, agonized over the woman he could not have and “Emily did draw upon her experience of her brother's suffering” (Robinson, 161).  In a letter that Branwell wrote about his ex-lover, he stated that his “own life without her will be hell. What can the so-called love of her wretched sickly husband be to her compared with [his]” (Robinson, 162)? Bronte reworks this statement deftly for Heathcliff, who says, “…existence, after losing her, would be hell,” and then, speaking of Catherine’s husband, Edgar, Heathcliff goes on, “…if he loved with all the powers of his puny being, he couldn’t love as much in eighty years, as I could in a day” (Bronte, 141). 
Through further acts of displacement, Emily also creates the character of Hindley Earnshaw, Catherine’s brother, who likewise succumbs to severe alcoholism when he loses the woman he loves and, like Branwell, “died true to his character, drunk as a lord” (Bronte, 169).  Heathcliff’s son, Linton, could also be seen as a symbolic substitution who, like Branwell, was a small and sickly fellow who spent much of his time whining and trying to manipulate others with his ailments. 
Bronte’s whole life seemed to be devoted to her brother, and when he died she grew “thin and pale and [said] nothing” (Robinson, 222).  After Branwell’s funeral, Emily, who thrived in nature and who loved the moors as if they were a cherished friend, “never went out of doors” again (Robinson, 222).  All of the passion she witnessed, the emotional wreckage her brother became, the tragedies she lived through – these are the things that fueled Wuthering Heights, “not her inexperience, but rather her experience, limited and perverse, indeed, and specialized by a most singular temperament, yet close and very real” (Robinson, 157). 
There is not a whole lot known about Emily Bronte and the solitary life she led on those wild Yorkshire moors.  What is available – the countless accessible essays, biographies about Emily and her family and our own close reading of Wuthering Heights with a psychoanalytical perspective – enables us to extrapolate enough information to understand that not only was Emily’s life clearly affected by her brother, but she was also a thoughtful and very interesting human being. 
Her sister, Charlotte, claims, in one of her disclaimers about Emily and Wuthering Heights, that she “had no worldly wisdom,” but she also states that inside “lay a secret power and fire that might have informed the brain and kindled the veins of a hero” (C. Bronte, 20).  These are character traits that gleam like lightning through the personalities of the deplorable and degraded human beings Emily created for Wuthering Heights, a novel so rich and powerful that, in spite of its moral ambiguity, by its very nature it must announce the utterly capable, unconditionally loving and inspired mind of the woman who wrote it.

Works Cited

Brontë, Charlotte.  “Biographical Notice of Ellis and Acton Bell.” Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism:  Wuthering Heights.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.  Print. 
Brontë, Emily.  Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism:  Wuthering Heights.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.  Print.
Gilbert, Sandra M. “Looking Oppositely:  Emily Brontë’s Bible of Hell.”  Wuthering Heights:  A Norton Critical Edition:  London:  W.H. Norton & Company Ltd., 2003.  Print.           
Murfin, Ross C.  “A Critical History of Wuthering Heights.”  Case Studies in Contemporary Criticism:  Wuthering Heights.  Boston:  Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2003.  Print. 
Robinson, A. Mary F. Emily Bronte. London:  W.H. Allen and Co., 1883.  Print.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Odyssey of Remedios Varo

            Remedios Varo came from Andalusian-Basque heritage, which is significant given the vast distinctions both cultures make from each other.  From her father’s Andalusian side came the love of art, frivolity and emotionalism.  He was pretentious, socially liberal and irreverent to the church.  He claimed a noble heritage and his desire for this claim was passed on to Remedios.  Needless to say, his imagination stimulated her and he was more encouraging of her artistic development than her mother was.
            Varo’s father was a perfectionist when it came to her abilities as a painter, and he painstakingly instructed her in all aspects of the craft.  From a carpenter’s and architectural perspective he instilled a “strong foundation of artistic discipline” (15).  While she found him very dominating, she valued the technical skills he taught her, and it is because of this that her perspective drawing is so masterful.
            Remedios Varo’s mother was quite the opposite.  Her Basque cultural heritage was of strict Catholicism, practicality and reservation.  Varo was much more like her father, but because of his domineering personality, she valued her mother’s feelings more. 
            As a child, Varo went to a Catholic convent school run by strict nuns.  During this time schools that were considered “free” – that is, independent of the church – were not common and considered to be controversial.  Her father wanted her to go to a more up-to-date liberal institution, but being a devout Catholic, her mother insisted on the convent. 
            The strict codes of the school did not mesh well with her mischievous temperament and she became rebellious, doing things like sprinkling sugar on the floor in front of her bedroom door at the convent to track the footsteps of people who might be spying on her.  She sought out novels of adventure by authors like Alexander Dumas and Jules Verne, which was considered very unladylike. 
            In her adolescent years, she became interested in the occult and indulged in intense fantasies.  She had a hard time discerning between reality and dreams, and she began developing this frame of mind by writing fantastical stories that she had to hide from the nuns beneath the stones of her bedroom floor.  This action fueled an obsession with a secret life existing “under floors, behind walls and in furniture” (18).
            The paintings she made in her later life demonstrate this obsession.  They also demonstrate, better than any of her other paintings, how she viewed her childhood.  In 1960 and 1961 she did a series of three paintings that she saw as a “triptych” (18).  This series mocked the strict convent education into which she was forced. 
            The first of this series is Toward the Tower, in which she has painted herself as a group of identical girls fleeing from a tower where they have been held captive.  It is dark and a little sad, but also whimsical, as you can see by the girls’ bicycles being made from their clothing.  All the girls sort of gaze listlessly ahead, but one of them is looking directly at us – a form of rebellion from what Varo called, “the hypnosis” (18).
Toward the Tower (1960)
            The second in this triptych is Embroidering Earth’s Mantle.  It has the same girls trapped in their tower, working away as they embroider “the mantle of the world according to the dictates of a ‘Great Master’” (19).  This represents the work done most at the convent, where needlework was considered to be the most appropriate skill for young women of culture.  Again we can see indicators of Varo’s rebellious spirit, as one of the girls has embroidered herself in with her lover; this is only barely visible and upside down in the fabric that flows from her table.  This tower imprisonment acts as two metaphors – that of her religious confinement, and of her liberation of herself. 
Embroidering Earth's Mantle (1961)
            The third and final painting in her triptych series is The Escape, in which she is seen fleeing with her lover.  This surreal and fantastical painting acts as an autobiography representing her marriage to another artist in 1930. 
The Escape
            The themes of the paintings of her later years all represent the emotional state of her youth.  Confinement and feelings of being scrutinized and smothered permeate these works of art.
            The paintings of her youth were much more rooted in fairy-tales and a preoccupation with accuracy.  She painted and sketched family members with great detail and tenderness.  By the time she was fifteen, she was studying with Salvador Dali at the Academia de San Fernando, which was the most prestigious art school in Madrid.
            Even though the academy focused primarily on rigid precision and discipline, Remedios Varo was far more interested in experimenting, and used Surrealism to express herself imaginatively.  She took to what is called “the spirit of innovation” that was the life for Spanish bohemians of the 1920s, completely rejecting conformity.
            During her academy years, Surrealism exploded in Madrid and out of its conception were born philosophers, writers, architects, composers, filmmakers and poets.  When Varo was twenty-one, she married a fellow artist named Gerardo Lizarraga, and it was in marriage that she finally felt free, because she was able to leave home and embrace the bohemian world she had always longed to be a part of. 
            After she graduated, the threat of civil war erupted in Spain.  The Monarchy fell as King Alfonso the XIII fled and reform was in the air – but the romance did not last long.  Spain was divided and violent attacks ensued.  Varo and her husband escaped the bloodshed by heading to Paris. 
            Once in Paris, Varo started taking classes at La Grande Chaumiere, a very popular free art school.  She quickly dropped out because she didn’t want her learning to come from an academic institution.  She and her husband lived the bohemian lifestyle of Paris, but after a year they returned to Spain, settling in liberal Barcelona, as it was the city most like Paris.
            In Barcelona, Remedios Varo met Esteban Francés, a young Catalan artist, who helped her to get more involved with the city’s Surrealist movement.  Even though she still lived with her husband, Lizarraga, she and Francés became lovers.  It was because of this open relationship that she felt she was finally able to sever herself from her strict moral upbringing.  From then on she juggled many open sexual relationships that developed into lifelong friendships.
            Varo and Francés got into a group game that was popular among the surrealists called The Exquisite Corpse.  The game initially began as a collaborative word game, during which each player would write a word or a phrase on a piece of paper – that paper was then passed to the next person who would do the same.  This exercise brought about bizarre juxtapositions and associations.  The name came about from the first round ever played by the Surrealists – the phrase that came forth was, “the exquisite corpse will drink the young wine” (40).  The game evolved and eventually included drawing – where each player would draw a body part until they had created a full figure. 
            During the summer of 1935, Varo and several of her Surrealist friends spent a lot of time playing The Exquisite Corpse.  Varo and Francés developed the game even further to include collage, and eventually she got into creating collages all on her own.  While there were several unsigned collages, Catalog of Shadows (1935) is suspected as being hers, as it includes the fixation on furniture design that will show up in her later work.
Catalog of Shadows (1935)
            Barcelona that summer had erupted in violence – the civil war was escalating.  It was a scary time.  There was more violence in the street than on the front lines of the war.  Not only were there political and religious murders, but you also never knew if someone from the right or left was going to wake you up in the middle of the night to “take a little walk” (45), because one of your friends sold you out.  Nobody felt safe, including Varo and her family, especially when they lost Luis, Remedios Varo’s younger brother – a soldier who died from typhoid due to the intense heat, exhaustion and bad food that Franco’s army were forced to endure.  His death scarred Varo, who said that it was a “bitter shock that her brother, her beloved playmate, should side with the enemy and die while still so young” (47). 
            It was during this violent time that Varo met Benjamin Péret, who was a French Surrealist poet and an anarcho-communist who believed in the teachings of Leon Trotsky.  He was also an active member of POUM (Worker’s Party of Marxist Unification).  In June of 1937 “the POUM was declared illegal, and the secret police began arresting anyone associated with the party” (53).  This put not only Péret in danger, but also Varo, being that she was his companion.  Still married to Lizarrega and seeing Francés she, in a fit of passion, returned to Paris to live with Péret.  Unfortunately, because Generalissimo Franco closed all the Spanish borders that had Republican ties, Remedios Varo was forced to stay in Paris, cut off from her home and her family.
            With Péret, Varo was able to live among the Surrealists; however, she felt intimidated and awe-struck by them instead of feeling as if she were one of them.  She was so insecure that during her entire adult life she lied about her age – making herself five years younger – because for a woman, age and wisdom was a death sentence.  The image of woman in the Surrealist movement was one of naïve innocence, called the woman-child, or the femme-enfant, and she wished to encompass that image.  Surrealists felt that this frame of mind brought women closer to the “intuitive realm of the unconscious” (56).   Women were considered to be the “prime source of artistic creativity” (56), a concept that was controversial among feminists like Simone de Beauvoir, who felt that it presented “woman as an object of male definition, as Other rather than Self, leaving little place for the real women among the Surrealist group to develop independent creative identities” (57).
            Like Varo, most women in Surrealist circles felt as if they floated around the outskirts, and, having allowed the limitations of male ideas about youth, innocence and creativity to permeate their lives, aging left little to be desired.  Luckily for Remedios Varo, the Surrealists found merit in her work, and while she was never officially accepted as a member of the Surrealist group, they allowed her work to be shown in “their international exhibitions and reproduced in their major publications” (63).
            It was during this time that Remedios Varo struck up an affair with Victor Brauner, another Surrealist painter, while she was living with Péret.  Sexual independence was quite common among the Surrealists, and everybody pretty much slept with everybody without much disruption.  However, one night at Óscar Dominguez’s studio, when everyone was drinking, things took a turn.  It is suggested that Esteban Francés, one of Varo’s boyfriends, yelled at her for all the affairs she was having.  Dominguez rose to defend her. 
            Brauner restrained Francés and Dominguez managed to free himself from whoever was holding him back.  He picked up a glass, meaning to hit Francés with it, but instead hit Brauner, “who collapsed to the floor, dazed and covered in blood, only to learn from his horrified friends that the glass had torn out his eye” (67).  A weird coincidence that surrounds this incident is the fact that prior to this, Victor Brauner had completed several self-portraits where he depicted himself as either having only one eye, or having one eye being torn from his face.  It is as if he prophesized the accident.
            In July of 1939, Varo’s life was once again hit by war when the city of Paris was evacuated, but the Surrealists stayed behind.  While Hitler invaded the surrounding countries, foreign refugees fled to Paris, and all non-citizens were forced to carry identification.  Not only were Jews being persecuted, but also foreigners were being ostracized.  It was dangerous for Varo to remain, as she was also associated with Péret, which, as “an outspoken communist, only made things worse” (69).  Péret was eventually arrested. 
            More weird coincidences surrounded Varo and her friends.  One day she went to the movies with a Hungarian photojournalist friend, named Emerico (Chiqui) Weisz, to see a project that Weisz had worked on – a documentary about French concentration camps.  In the movie, Varo saw Gerardo Lizarraga – the man who was “still legally her husband” (70).  He had been an anarchist fleeing Franco rule, escaped into France as a Spanish refugee and was captured like many others.  Varo and her friends were able to secure his release.
            In 1940, Varo was arrested.  She neither left any account of her incarceration, nor did she ever tell anyone where she was or for how long she was there.  Her friends indicate that the experience was devastating and “left Varo terribly traumatized and shaken” (71).  In June of the same year, following the Nazi occupation of France, Varo fled Paris before she was able to find out where Péret was being held and whether or not he was to be released.  She ended up in Canet-Plage, which is a small fishing village on the Mediterranean coast.  She lived there with Victor Brauner for a while until she left for Marseilles, where she stayed with a bunch of artists. 
            Péret joined her after a few months.  For a few years they remained there and attempted to revive their Surrealist bohemian lifestyle, but a lack of food and the growing fascist regime forced them to flee France altogether.  Péret eventually arranged passage to Mexico, as in June of 1940 “the Mexican government had offered its protection to all Spanish refugees” (81).
            Again Varo and her friends attempted to revive their bohemian lifestyle, but while Mexico welcomed refugees, the Mexican art community was less than hospitable.  Artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo held Mexico’s roots firmly “in the indigenous Indian culture, involved [in the] rejection of foreign ‘colonializing’ influences” (87).  Rivera and Kahlo saw the foreign Surrealists as “false artists” who perpetuated “the semi-colonial condition of Mexican culture by imitating European modes” (87).  Of the Surrrealists Frida Kahlo said:
“They make me vomit.  They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore… I’d rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than to have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris” (88).
So the Spanish and French Surrealists who settled in Mexico created their own community where they held on to the European bohemian spirit.
            In 1942, Remedios Varo and Peret were married.  It was during this time that Varo and an English woman painter named Leonora Carrington developed a deep friendship.  Their relationship was built upon their “shared belief in the mystical and the powers of magic” (93).  This belief motivated them to pursue the occult, and it was in the “fertile atmosphere” of Mexico that they studied “witchcraft, alchemy, sorcery, Tarot and magic” (96).  They spent more time writing stories than painting – short stories and fairy-tales, and Varo wrote a lot of letters to strangers:
“My dear sir,
            I have allowed a prudent amount of time to pass, and now I see – that is – I feel certain that your spirit is in an advantageous state for communicating with me. I am a reincarnation of a girlfriend you had long ago. She was not exceptionally favored, speaking in terms of physical appearance: large nose, freckled skin, red hair, and a bit underweight. Fortunately, my current incarnation has only conserved the red hair as a physical feature. The friend, hot stuff! Greek nose, seductive curves – without being fat, I benefit from unparalleled abundances and, bottom I have a few wrinkles? An insignificant detail equivalent to the noble patina that all objects of good quality attain.
            This reincarnation wasn’t simple.  After traveling first through the body of a cat, then through an unknown creature belonging to the world of speed – that is to say, one of those who pass through us at more than 300,000 km/second (which is why we don’t see them), then my spirit poured itself, unexplainably, into the heart of a piece of quartz. Thanks to an abominable storm, the electrical phenomena turned in my favor and lightning struck said piece of quartz, rescuing my spirit, which spiraled out to rest in the body of a woman of ample flesh who happened to be around. I am satisfied with my current circumstance, so I am taking a chance, writing you with the hopes that you haven’t forgotten me” (Reincarnation of Remedios). 
            For work, Remedios Varo hand-painted items like furniture and toys for children.  She also designed “costumes for theatrical productions” and “extraordinary hats” (98).  These costumes later showed up in her paintings.  In Woman’s Tailor (1957), she “pictured a fashion showroom in which a tailor has his models parade his latest creations before a potential client” (100).
 Woman's Tailor (1957)
            In 1947, Péret returned to France and Varo, traumatized by the war, did not want to leave Mexico – and she could never return to Spain as long as Franco was still in power.  She loved Mexico and made it her home. 
            In 1949, Varo and her long time friend, Walter Gruen, got close.  He had been in concentration camps in France and Germany and when he was living in Austria he had been a medical student, “until Hitler put an end to his studies” (119).  Living with Gruen, Varo was finally able to fully flourish as an artist.  He supported her emotionally and financially until she was able to contribute money from the work she sold.  She worked several hours a day, sometimes for months on one painting, and then she would start another one – her style maturing, her technique becoming meticulous.
            In 1955, she had her first exhibition in Mexico, and the paintings she showed were indicative of the themes that were to inspire her work for the rest of her life.  One of her paintings shown in this exhibit, Sympathy, “explored the relationship between women and cats” (122).  Varo explains of the painting:
“This lady’s cat jumps onto the table, producing the sort of disorder that one must learn to tolerate if one likes cats (as I do).  Upon caressing it, so many sparks fly that they form a very complicated electrical gadget.  Some sparks and electricity go to her head and rapidly make a permanent wave” (123).
Sympathy (1955)
             The title implies the “sympathetic bond between the woman and her cat” (123).  The “electrical force field [is] set up by the emotional vibration between them” (123).  Her original title, Madness of the Cat, implies the other nature of the animal – its fierceness and the disorder it causes by jumping up on the table and spilling the glass of milk.  It is an example of how Varo liked to turn mundane home life into intense and “emotionally complex scenes” (124).  In other words, she liked drama.
            Another painting Varo showed in this exhibition is called Solar Music (1955).  In the painting, she depicts a woman draped in a grassy robe that comes directly from the ground – she is playing a stream of sunlight as if it were a violin.  The face of the woman is like that of Remedios Varo, and it is suggested that, “having so recently experienced the release of her own creative powers, she projected herself onto the persona of the woodland musician in awakening and coloring nature” (125). 
Solar Music (1955)
             This exhibition, which only boasted four paintings by Varo, took Mexican critics by storm.  They were so awed by her imaginative and wonderfully technical pieces that she outshone all of the artists at the show.  She used decalcomania, which, in Surrealist painting, is a sort of blotting technique – you spread the paint thick on the canvas and then cover it with another material.  The material is removed before the paint dries and the left over pattern becomes part of the finished painting.  This technique was developed as a method for Surrealist painters to create imagery that arose from the “chance patterns of decalcomania” (128); however, Remedios Varo used it in a predetermined manner – to exercise “artistic control” (128). 
            This was one of the ways she was distancing herself from the group she once strived so hard to become a part of.  She was exerting her independence, and her work exploded in a proliferation of sophistication.  The critics loved her, and she received the praise of fellow artists, including Diego Rivera, whose opinion on art seemed to be most important in Mexico at the time and who at one time, along with his wife, denounced all the European artists living in Mexico.  After her next show, she had collectors and buyers beating down her door for a chance to purchase one of her works. 
            For the rest of her career, Varo had regular exhibitions and won awards.  She was commissioned for paintings of the children from prominent families, which she “profoundly disliked” (136) because of the pressure to complete her work in a timely fashion – something she found difficult to do, as her meticulous technique required her to paint quite slowly. 
            The last ten years of her life were spent traveling through her own psyche, exploring “the possibilities of metamorphosis, growth, and change” (147).  She grew to despise physical travel, but turned this journey into a metaphor, which emerged in the narrative of her work to touch on “the constraints of tradition, memory, fear and isolation to seek power, creativity, spirituality and magic” (148).  In a sense, Remedios Varo was continuing her everlasting search for personal freedom. 
Her paintings are small, intimate and personal, and, “grounding the extraordinary in the ordinary, she chose the most mundane objects and environments… as the locus for transcendent moments and miraculous discoveries” (148).  In Visit to the Past (1957), Varo paints a simple room, sparsely furnished, in which her “self-portrait character stands at the entrance” (148).  It is a room from her past, a room that has been lived in by many, but as a visitor, “she finds it haunted by her own presence” (148).  She sees these ghosts of herself in the wall, in the table, in the chair.  Visit to the Past was painted after visiting a dying Péret in Paris.
A Visit to the Past (1957)
            This piece shows how heavy the weight of the past laid on her.  In her search for
independence, Remedios Varo had to abandon a lot – her family, the role that had been cast for her as a woman (and as the daughter of a devout Catholic) – and, while her paintings depict her as someone who is scrutinized, the faces of those looking back at her are in fact her own, which “suggests that the scrutiny has been internalized.  She may turn her back on the house of her past, but she is haunted by her own disapproval” (149).  Ultimately, she came to the conclusion that true independence is an illusion, and she depicts this epiphany in Vagabond (1957), a painting in which a man wears an elaborate outfit that is also a vehicle of sorts.  He thinks he is autonomous because of all that he carries with him.  Of this she says:
“…The man is not liberated:  on one side of the outfit there is a nook which acts as a living room.  Here there is a portrait hanging and three books.  On his breast he wears a flowerpot with a rose growing in it, a finer and more delicate plant than those he finds in these woods.  But he needs the portrait, the rose (nostalgia for a little garden in a house) and his cat; he is not truly free” (151). 
Vagabond (1957)
This painting can be seen as a self-portrait of sorts, as even though Varo fled to Mexico with “only what she could carry, she, too, found it difficult to free herself from the past” (151). 
            Varo felt that it was important to embark on this painful journey because the alternative would be worse.  “She feared even more the paralysis that apathy would invite” (158).  In her painting, Mimesis (1960), her self-portrait character is an unmoving woman sitting alone in a room, who is surrounded by anthropomorphized furniture.  Varo describes the woman in the painting as having “remained motionless for so long that she is turning into the armchair…” (159).  The painting seems silly (the chair in the background is perusing through a drawer), but it “conveys desperation” (159).  The animation of the furniture outshines the woman, who sits in submission and her “apathy surprises even her pet cat,” who watches in shock from a hole in the floor (159).  Varo wanted to raise the issue of how women lose themselves in “domestic isolation” (160). 
Mimesis (1960)
            In the height of her career, and before the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City was able to tell her that they were thinking of doing a massive exhibition in her honor, Remedios Varo died suddenly of a heart attack.  Her work has touched many, including other artists like Thomas Pynchon, who “included a description of Varo’s Embroidering Earth’s Mantle in his 1966 novel, The Crying of Lot 49” (230).  He used the painting as a symbol for the emotional state of his main character, “who is moved to tears on confronting those ‘frail girls prisoner in their tower’ who embroider their voluminous tapestry ‘seeking hopelessly to fill the void’” (230), a void Remedios Varo spent her whole life seeking to escape. 
 Works Cited
Kaplan, Janet A.  Remedios Varo:  Unexpected Journeys.  Abbeville Press, New York.  2000.  Print.
Zoe in Wonderland.  The Reincarnation of Remedios, 2014.  Web.  April 10, 2014.