Remedios Varo Is the Woman Surrealist You've Never Heard Of

A woman sits in shadows, wrapped in a great checkered cowl. Behind her, golden light pours from a contraption of cogs, bells, tubes, and funnels that reach into the clouds. The conduits draw rainwater into small elixir bottles. It's Useless Science or the Alchemist, a painting by Remedios Varo. “Indelible Fables,” the first exhibition of her work held in the Western U.S., is at Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern.

Her fanciful allegories — rivers that flow out of wineglasses, troubadours who play music on strands of women's hair, men's coats that become boats — are frequently inured by themes of isolation and confinement. Not surprising, given that the Spanish anarchist fled Europe before the start of World War II. Though it was not Varo's intention, Mexico City became her lifelong home. And while her strongest artistic influence remained her tutelage by French surrealists such as Andre Breton, it was in Mexico where she delved into studies of alchemy and sacred geometry, which set her work apart. At the time of her sudden death at age 54, Varo was tremendously popular within the exile community, but despite her inventive and inspired body of work, she is strangely absent from art histories.

“Indelible Fables” continues through Feb. 25 at Frey Norris Contemporary & Modern, 161 Jessie (New Montgomery), S.F. Admission is free.

Click through to see more of her work.

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