Catalogue des ombres [Catalog of Shadows], 1935
Remedios Varo (Anglès, Girona, 1908 – Mexico City, 1963), exemplified in her biography and her artistic creation the female archetype who joined the Spanish intellectual class in the 1830s. Catalogue des ombres corresponds to her early exposure to the avant-garde, prior to leaving for Paris and her subsequent exile in Mexico, where she devoted herself entirely to painting.
She was born into a bourgeois, freethinking family that was to support her artistic leanings from her earliest youth. After spending part of her childhood in Tangier and Algeciras, her family settled in Madrid in 1917. Between 1924 and 1930 she studied at the San Fernando Academy of Fine Arts, before moving to Barcelona in 1930. She made friends with the avant-garde artistic circle in the city, while accepting commercial assignments from an advertising agency. In 1935, the year in which she met Oscar Domínguez and Marcel Jean, she put on a joint exhibition with José Luis Florit in a cafeteria on Madrid’s Gran Via, presenting works that were already Surrealist in nature. Most noteworthy from these years are her collages. In 1936 she participated in the Exposició Logicofobista in Barcelona and came into contact with the French poet Éluard.
At the beginning of the Civil War, she met Benjamin Péret, with whom she started a relationship and, in 1937, she moved to France. In Paris she entered the most exclusive Surrealist circle – André Breton, Max Ernst and Leonora Carrington. Together with her new friends, Remedios and Esteban Francés, she turned to playing “exquisite corpses” (creating many images from one initial image), although they introduced a new technique: “The surprises of concealed collaboration were united with the joys of a collage. We would cut up characters, objects, animals from old magazines… that we stuck onto sheets of paper; then, concealing their own collage, each participant passed the sheet on to the next collaborator.”. Like most of the resulting exquisite corpses, these drawings reveal anthropomorphic forms. Using the same technique, Remedios undertook a series of photomontages, among which are Le message, La leçon d’anatomie, La corrida and this Catalogue des ombres. The collage was always an absurd mixture, bringing together items from different mental universes, fragments of an enigmatic whole. The very details of the work could have different readings, sometimes contradictory, with no possibility of applying hierarchies. A language of vignettes and quotes that is like an involuntary toponymic poem.
The Nazi invasion led to her leaving Paris and, in 1941, she and Péret reached Mexico, where she was to settle until she died. Until the early 1950s she did not devote herself entirely to her artistic activity, with which she created a totally personal world of an intensely dreamlike, literary nature.
It was then that her true career began, with solo and group exhibitions in the Diana Gallery and Excelsior Galleries, or a participation in the Second International Biennial of Mexico.