Dennis Pottenger

Remedios Varo and the Problem of Patriarchy

Remedios Varo worked from the lineage of Surrealism, an art movement that used creative methods to unlock imagination and increase consciousness. 

For Varo, who studied art with Salvador Dalí in Spain, painting was a symbolic search for self-discovery, a female quest to touch and hold the wonder, meaning, and love that can be extracted from deep suffering. Varo also used painting to re-imagine a world that works for everyone, not just those with patriarchal privilege.

In The Red Weaver, for example, Varo uses weaving as a metaphor to depict and express the inner experience of a woman’s birth into her own female nature.  In the painting, one woman knits another woman—a second self who appears ready to take flight through an open window. 

Varo’s use of the color blue in the painting is psychologically meaningful. The thread being used to weave the red woman is blue, as are the clouds and sky from which the thread appears to gather beyond the window. Even the color of the cat playing with the ball of yarn is a black that shines with a hint of blue. 

Varo may want the viewer of the painting to know that imagination, symbolized by the color blue, can be used to weave a new experience from the remnants of the blackened first matter. The artist may also be trying to tell us that melancholy can be transformed from the density of depressed mood into the emotional fullness and vitality symbolized by the color red and by the coming to life of the woman whose potential has been woven into a new form from the black and blue matter of difficult experience.

Varo’s work carries a message: Follow me into a world where imagination can be used to transform what is into what can be.

Dennis Pottenger is a depth psychologist, award-winning literary journalist, and author of Alchemy, Jung, and Remedios Varo: Cultural Complexes and the Redemptive Power of the Abjected Feminine, which offers a depth psychological analysis of the art and life of Remedios Varo, a Spanish surrealist painter, focusing on how the practice of alchemical psychology, through the power of imagination and the archetypal Feminine, can lead to healing and transformation for individuals and culture.

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