Weaving Inspiration into Words: A Reflection on Remedios Varo by Rym Kechacha
I wouldn’t like to point to a single work of Remedios Varo and say it’s my favourite, but I will say that the one I return to more than any other is Embroidering the Earth’s Mantle from 1961. It has everything in it that I associate with her art; the reclamation of textile work from a place of female drudgery to a place of artistic importance; the creation of art and worlds; and the tension between freedom and fate.
It’s also the starting point for my novel, To Catch a Moon, in which I imagine a fantasy world based on characters and scenes from Varo’s work coming to life to play out a cosmic drama of moon daughters, owl-women, jugglers, witches and lions made of leaves. It’s the painting that sent me looking for the stories in the work and set my imagination firing.
The writing process was a dream. I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like it again. Every time I got stuck, I returned to the paintings like a compass, looking deeper into the symbols and the composition. I was struck by the precision of the work, the way each painting formed its own internal logic despite their impossibilities. That’s what I want for this novel, I thought. To hide startling and poignant images within the structures and boundaries of the novel form.
Every time I got stuck, I returned to the paintings like a compass, looking deeper into the symbols and the composition. I was struck by the precision of the work, the way each painting formed its own internal logic despite their impossibilities.
I finished the manuscript just before my first child was born. In the months afterwards, I had little time or energy to work on anything new, but I found myself still thinking of the paintings, this time most drawn towards those with the same sense of melancholy isolation I felt. The tired woman feeding the caged moon that sometimes seemed to be my daughter and sometimes seemed to be me; the figure hunched at the spindle and draped in the floor that seemed to represent my own exhaustion.
The horrors of the pandemic were just beginning and my baby was growing and growing and every day I thought about the impossibility of trying to write while mothering and the futility of trying to write while the world fell apart. I wondered if Remedios ever felt crushed by the chaos of her escape from Europe in the early forties, or if she had faith that the world - and her ability to make her art - would gather itself one day soon. Alone in the four walls of my own house I yearned for something like the creative friendships she nurtured with fellow artists Leonora Carrington and Kati Horna which blurred the lines between their artistic and domestic lives. Doing the school run, sketching, cooking dinner, working on a canvas… it all became one, gloriously messy life of feminine creativity and it’s precisely the energy I - so many of us - need.
Doing the school run, sketching, cooking dinner, working on a canvas… it all became one, gloriously messy life of feminine creativity and it’s precisely the energy I - so many of us - need.
Since the novel’s publication, I’ve been thinking about Remedios’ posthumous legacy. She did see success and recognition in her lifetime, with solo shows from the mid fifties until she died but from what I have read, I wonder if what she considered most valuable was the freedom this recognition brought her in order to be able to create only what she wanted; all the fantastical beings and happenings that had been welling up inside her during all those long years of apprenticeship and exile. I think of the owl woman from my novel, patiently and lovingly drawing birds out of moonlight and her own heart, at peace in the night as she makes exactly what she is called to make.
Rym Kechacha is a writer living in Norwich. Her debut novel, Dark River, was shortlisted for two British Fantasy awards and her second novel, To Catch a Moon, is out now. You can find her on twitter @RymKechacha.