Secret recipes: Alchemy, creation, and the art of political weaving

We know that Varo read and applied the concepts and methods of Jungian psychology to her personal life and to her creative work as an artist. With painting, dreams, and the psychology of the unconscious in mind, we can consider Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle an artistic and alchemical depiction of a moment in Varo’s evolution: the joining together of the experience of suffering and entrapment within psychological complexes and the healing and transformative potentialities originating in the archetypal layers of the psyche.

In classical Jungian psychology, there is a close connection between personal experience, the inherent limitations of the ego, and the inexpressible and unknowable archetypal forces that bring insight, healing, and transformation to the personality. In Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle, Varo hinted at the growth taking place in her own psyche through the figure of the flute player and in the image of the lovers who have escaped the tower. This internal dynamic, driven by the archetypal desire of one thing for another, an inner movement that is arcing toward the alchemical union of feminine and masculine, matures in The Escape, the third painting in Varo’s triptych. We look in more detail at the imagery in The Escape toward the end of Part I, in the context of psychological reflections on the man with whom Varo weaves her destiny for eternity in the dream of the executioner. Here it is important to note that in the escape from the tower, Varo portrayed herself accompanied by a man in a seed pod that she is steering. The tableau of gold clouds amid mountain peaks conveys a longing and a quest beyond the personal. As an escape from convention and imprisonment, the image of Varo and her lover traveling on the seed pod of her imagination suggests the release into the world the possibility of a partnership in which the relational feminine and her creative Eros—the will to love rather than the will to power—is the guiding force.

Here, if we linger a little longer in the metaphoric space Varo painted, we can consider Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle as the artist’s imaginal attempt to envision a world where women are no longer objects for the sexual gratification of men or muses who must sacrifice their own voice and potential in service to the patriarchal male’s need for authority. As someone who felt marginalized because of her gender, Varo painted a journey into a new possibility not just for herself but for other women who long for more agency and choice.

The motif of weaving for the betterment of the collective grows from well-tilled soil. In The Craft of Zeus, John Scheid and Jesper Svenbro consider the practical importance and symbolic meaning of political weaving in ancient Greece:

Among the representations the Greeks made of society, of the bonds between men and the cohesion of human groups, or even of the city, there is one that seems to fabricate society more than any other: weaving. Domestic or political, profoundly ritualized, weaving brings into play an ensemble of notions capable of being inscribed in the collective memory, gestures that allow one to grasp, to touch, social organization. (1994/1996: 9)

“Weaving,” these scholars added, “demonstrates for both the hand and the eye a possible, or desirable, way to conceive of life in society ... [Wjeaving unites what must be united. To weave is to unite, to interlace, to bind” (10).

With the social aspects of weaving in ancient Greece in mind, painting, for Varo, seems to have functioned as a weaving, an artistic practice undertaken to “give order to a great tangle of matters” in order to “put each matter in its proper place” (Scheid & Svenbro, 1994/1996: 12). Bogzaran added nuance to Varo’s painted imaginal weavings, linking art and dreams with transformation and the presence of archetypal forces:

Varo’s paintings can be viewed as a process of transformation—a conscious narrative of an oneiric scene. The environments are dreamlike but the actions and interactions are lucid and deliberate. In each painting she carries out a psychomagic act. Not only is the dreamer/ painter involved in the creation of the world: she is assisted by an invisible force. In her paintings, Remedios Varo clearly demonstrates that creation is a manner of working in concert with the magic of nature and the forces of the unknown. (2008: 181)

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