Female Surrealist Icons: Varo, Carrington, Tichenor & Agar
We know that the Surrealists were a bit of a boy’s club. But it seems to be taken for granted that Surrealism’s women were mere titillating muses—inspiration for explorations of the erotic subconscious. It is true that Andre Breton, the “Pope of Surrealism,” was something of a chauvinist, championing the work of Surrealist males (then excommunicating them at will) over females; but it is also a fact that there were many excellent female Surrealist artists.
Below, I briefly take a look at Remedios Varo, Leonora Carrington, Bridget Bate Tichenor and Eileen Agar. All phenomenally-talented artists.
Born María de los Remedios Alicia Rodriga Varo y Uranga in Anglès, Varo moved to Paris in the ’20s and became part of an art group called Logicophobiste.
Varo was married Surrealist poet Benjamin Péret, one of the men in Breton’s inner circle. In the ’30s she moved to Mexico City and became friends with another expatriate, Leonora Carrington. Varo, who was interested in alchemy, hermetics, sacred geometry and magic, explored these subjects in her paintings; which are every bit as good as Salvador Dali or Rene Magritte’s. Along with Carrington, Varo presaged the creative career of Alejandro Jodorowsky, director of El Topo and Holy Mountain, as well as co-creator, along with Moebius, of the ground-breaking graphic novel The Incal.
A British expatriate, Leonora Carrington was the companion of Surrealist Max Ernst, with whom she forged an intense collaborative artistic relationship. During World War II she was separated from Ernst and had a mental breakdown. Her parents had her institutionalized and doped up on drugs (isn’t it strange how creative women of the early 20th century were considered “mad” by their parents?).
When she was well again, Andre Breton encouraged Carrington to write and publish a novel of her temporary psychosis entitled Down Below. In the 1940s Carrington lived and worked out of Mexico City, exploring alchemical and magical themes (early Magical Realism) alongside her friend Varo. She also became a guru to Alejandro Jodorowsky, who sung her praises as as a total creative being.
Carrington ended up living a long and creatively productive life, dying in 2011.
Bridget Bate Tichenor
While perhaps not as well known as Varo and Carrington, Bridget Bate Tichenor is every bit their creative equal. Bridget’s mother, Vera Bate Lombard, was said to be a PR liaison between Coco Chanel and the European royals (nice pedigree).
Initially a model in Paris and photographed by the likes of Man Ray (what Surrealist female wasn’t?), Bridget was encouraged from an early age to be artistic. Like Varo and Carrington, Bridget was an European expatriate who found her home in Mexico City—a theme is developing here, no? And like Varo and Carrington, she explored alchemy and magical realism in her work.
In 2012 a retrospective of Tichenor’s work was exhibited at Museo de la Ciudad de México, cementing her rightful place in the Surrealist and 20th century artistic canons.
Eileen Agar, a native Argentine, moved to Paris in 1928, where she met Surrealists André Breton and Paul Éluard. She later became a member of the London Surrealist group in the ’30s.
Like many Surrealist writers and artists (Andre Masson comes to mind), Agar experimented with the automatic technique—that is, unfiltered mind and hand create art without much or any foreplanning. She also made collaged paintings and objects. Although she’s associated with the Surrealists, Ager’s work also has much in common with Cubists like Picasso.
Originally published in a slightly different form on the Vtg Wonderland website, which specializes in vintage, high-end designer accessories and fashion.