Mexican modern art evokes deep nationalistic convictions. At its roots is a conflicted history profoundly marked by the struggle for independence and the first social revolution of the 20th century. Mexican culture however, has been quite cosmopolitan since the 16th century. The history of Mexican art reveals a country receptive to a continued dialogue with the West, maintaining a cultural pendulum between its own heritage and the rest of the world. It is not surprising, therefore, that with the advent of the Second World War and the Spanish Civil War, Mexico generously welcomed hundreds of thousands of immigrants who in turn, enriched and shaped the culture of their adoptive nation.
Of Spanish origin, Remedios Varo Uranga was one of the many artists who emigrated to Mexico fleeing the savagery in Europe, and that found in these lands, a climate of peace and tranquillity ideal for developing the full potential of her creative work. Having studied at the prestigious Academy of San Fernando in Madrid, the very skillful young painter traveled to Barcelona to meet the artists of the European avant-garde. There she came into contact with the aesthetic postulates of Surrealism and decided to leave for Paris to join the circle of André Breton.
Remedios Varo was a prominent Surrealist among the leading Surrealists and it was her talent--not her female status--which allowed her to display her work alongside the most important painters of her time. Once validated by Breton, Remedios Varo participated in the exhibition of Surrealist objects in 1936 in Paris and was included by Alfred Barr in the landmark exhibition of Fantastic Art, Dada & Surrealism organized by the Museum of Modern Art in New York that same year. Consequently, Remedios Varo was a Surrealist artist in her own right well before migrating to Mexico in 1941 accompanied by the poet Benjamin Péret.
Her early years in Mexico were characterized by mere subsistence. Not surprisingly, her artistic work entered into a period of creative lethargy until she met the Austrian refugee politician Walter Gruen Berger. It was Berger who procured Remedios with the ideal context in which to retrieve her artistic potential. Starting from 1954 her painting flourished with an imaginative and conceptual capacity far exceeding the postulates of the Surrealist movement. A period of intense production, she completed over one hundred wonderful paintings in just a decade, before dying at the peak of her creativity in 1963.
The work produced by Remedios Varo in Mexico is the most significant of her career. Magical, mysterious and enigmatic, every one of her pictures has become an icon for collectors around the world. In 1961 she painted her most ambitious work, a triptych in the manner of the great Flemish paintings she so admired. Executed in a format of almost 3 meters long; the picture was a synthesis of the origin, the desire and the future she envisioned for herself as an artist. At the left, she conceived Hacia la torre, (Towards the Tower), at the center, Bordando el manto terrestre (Embroiding the terrestrial mantle) in a private collection, and flanked to the right, La huida (The Flight) currently in the collection of the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City. Painting with a technical virtuosity exacerbated by the rendition of minute details executed with very fine brushes, Varo captured the fears that had maintained her captive, her longing for love and the desire to produce her own works. Above all, she relished in the freedom she found in Mexico. Conceived as a conceptual narrative read over three images, the pictures were eventually separated and dispersed to private collections. Very few times have they been exhibited together.
Hacia la torre is the first pictorial manifesto of the trilogy. Capturing a young Remedios Varo, it depicts the artistic and social conventions of her native Spain. According to the own artist, a group of fearful young girls come out of their "beehive to go to work" guarded by a circle of birds which prevent them from escaping. They are "hypnotized," subordinated by a severe governess of monastic aspect. Only a girl, perhaps Remedios Varo herself, resists her absolute control. Staring outside of the picture plane, she makes the viewer her accomplice in her search for freedom. With a single gesture, Varo seduces the attentive observer and turns him or her into a protagonist of her own story and thus we become involved in the plot of her vicissitudes.
It was precisely the captivating quality of her paintings which earned Remedios Varo immediate success. Hacia la torre is, without a doubt, one of her most iconic works; filled with biographical references possible only in the creativity she rediscovered in her beloved Mexico.
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