Remedios Varo Uranga (16 December 1908 – 8 October 1963) was a Spanish-Mexican surrealist artist working in Spain, France, and Mexico.
She was born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in Anglès, a small town in the province of Girona (Catalonia), in northeast Spain, in 1908. Her mother named Varo in honor of the Virgen de los Remedios (the "Virgin of Remedies") after a recently deceased older sister.
Varo's father, Rodrigo Varo y Zajalvo (Cejalvo), was a hydraulic engineer. Because of his work, the family moved to different locations across Spain and North Africa. Varo's father recognized her artistic talents early on and would have her copy the technical drawings of his work with their straight lines, radii, and perspectives, which she reproduced faithfully. He encouraged independent thought and supplemented her education with science and adventure books, notably the novels of Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, and Edgar Allan Poe. As she grew older, he provided her with texts on mysticism and philosophy. Those first few years of her life left an impression on Varo that would later show up as motifs in her work such as machinery, furnishings and artifacts. Romanesque and Gothic architecture, unique to Anglès, also showed up in her later artistic production. Varo's mother, Ignacia Uranga Bergareche, was born to Basque parents in Argentina. She was a devout Catholic and commended herself to the patron saint of Anglès, the Virgin of Los Remedios, promising to name her first daughter after the saint.
Varo had two surviving siblings: an older brother Rodrigo and a younger brother Luis.
Varo was given the basic education at a convent school that was typical for young ladies of a good upbringing at the time - an experience that fostered her rebellious tendencies. Varo took a critical view of religion, rejecting the religious ideology of her childhood education and instead hewed to the liberal and universalist ideas that her father instilled in her. Varo drew throughout her childhood and painted her first painting at age twelve. The family moved to Madrid in 1924 and Varo entered the prestigious Escuela de Bellas Artes at the age of 15 under the tutelage of Manuel Benedito [es]. Varo met her husband Gerardo Lizárraga at the Escuela de Bellas Artes and married him in San Sebastian in 1930.
The couple left Spain for Paris to be nearer to where much of Europe's art scene was. After a year, Lizárraga got a job in Spain and the couple moved to Barcelona, at the time the European centre of the artistic avant-garde. Both Lizárraga and Varo worked for the Thompson Advertising Firm while in Barcelona In 1935, Varo participated in a drawing exhibition in Madrid which displayed her Composición (Composition). The following year, Varo contributed three works to a show organized by the "Logicophobists".
In 1937 Varo met political activist and artist Esteban Francés and left her husband behind to fight in the Spanish Civil War. She moved back to Paris with both Francés and the poet Benjamin Péret in order to escape from the political unrest and shared a studio with them there. Varo never divorced Lizárraga and had different partners/lovers throughout her life; but she also remained friends with all of them, in particular with husband Lizárraga and Péret.
In Paris, Varo lived in poverty, working odd jobs and having to copy and even forge paintings in order to get by. At the beginning of World War II, Péret was imprisoned by the French government for his political beliefs; Varo was also imprisoned as his romantic partner. A few days after Varo was freed, the Germans entered Paris, and she was forced to join other refugees leaving France. Péret was freed soon after, and the two managed to obtain documents to allow them to escape the war to Mexico. On 20 November 1941 Varo, along with Péret and Rubinstein, boarded the Serpa Pinto in Marseilles to flee war-torn Europe. The terror she experienced at this time remained as a significant psychological scar.
Varo began her interest in esoteric doctrine of G.I. Gurdjieff in 1943 and officially joined the group in 1944.
Varo initially considered her time in Mexico to be temporary. However, except for a year spent in Venezuela, she would reside in Mexico for the rest of her life. This trip to Venezuela was part of a French scientist expedition which she joined in Paris during a trip there from Mexico. She returned to Mexico after a year abroad in 1949.
In 1952 Varo married the Austrian political refugee Walter Gruen. His financial stability allowed Varo more time to devote to her painting.