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 Dorothy Varian  (1895 - 1985)

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Lived/Active: New York      Known for: still life, mod naive genre and non objective painting

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Ad Code: 3
Dorothy Varian
from Auction House Records.
Small Circus
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is submitted by Cornelia Seckel, publisher "Art Times"

Profile: Dorothy Varian

ART TIMES August 1989

WITH THE WISDOM and tolerance which only comes with years of experience, artist Dorothy Varian speaks of art, of artists, of creativity, as only few can. Although a boon to any interviewer, she speaks somewhat wistfully of her "photographic memory," an asset that, for her, is a mixed blessing. Considering that Ms. Varian's first one-person show was held in 1922 at the Durand-Ruel Galleries in Paris, her store of memories and anecdotes is formidable.

Her stories, for example, of her time in France as a young woman are rich enough to fill a volume; it will suffice here to relate one such pleasant memory. Visiting at the Renoir's home and studio, she was the guest of that great painter's son, Jean, who was showing her his father's works. Apparently he carefully registered her reactions to Renoir's paintings since, when she retired to her room for the night, there upon the walls of her bedroom hung the three paintings she most liked, giving her the opportunity to be with them for a longer period.

Now, no longer the wide-eyed and impressionable young woman who was once, in her words, "blonde, buxom, and pink" and the subject of other painters, the name of Dorothy Varian is well known in the art world. Listed in six different "Who's Who" books, the subject of numerous articles and magazines, Ms. Varian has been the recipient of many awards and has exhibited her works around the world. Still very active, she now divides her time between her studios in Woodstock, New York and at Carnegie Hall Manhattan.

Although many of her earlier paintings include both figures and landscapes (views from around her Woodstock studio), Ms. Varian is primarily concerned with color and most of her present work is non-representational. "Sometimes, I see people as colors," she explains, "I recently did a series of abstracts, each representing a different acquaintance of mine. I found it interesting that a number of those I invited to the exhibition would be drawn to the precise painting, which I felt represented them. Of course, I neither told them before nor after the showing that I had intended these paintings to represent them or anyone else."

When asked if she ever attempted to put into writing what she is conveying through her paintings, she immediately asked in return, "What on earth for?" A firm believer that one medium cannot be translated into another, Ms. Varian sees no point in talking rather than painting. Happy to regale her visitors with conversation amply laced with a sense of humor, she nevertheless avoids what she considers a futile exercise. In short, her works must speak for themselves.

As noted, such reticence is not present when she speaks of her experiences. Happily, she shared some notes she had written on her coming to settle in Woodstock. At first determined to settle at The Ducktrap, an inlet from Penobscot Bay in Maine, she was dissuaded from this move by some Woodstock friends whom she was visiting in 1930. "Who do you know up there?" they asked, and in 1931 she succumbed to their wishes. She recalls: "So in '31 while riding up and down the Wittenberg Road a small sign caught my eye on a pear tree beside a most dilapidated house"House for Sale"I drove in. Strung across the entire back of the house was a chicken-coop, woodshed, smokehouse and outhouse a barn stood to the far left. No view 'There isn't a brook an the place by any chance?' I asked. 'BROOK! Why it's famous for its trout.' Settled the place for me. On July 1st, 1931 I moved right in. The summer following, the woodshed and smokehouse were moved, which gave a fine, but partial view of the lower Catskills. The brook was my love and bathtub The barn was moved down to the edge of the brook with an 18' window salvaged from an old West Shore Railroad building in Roundout facing directly north made an ideal studio, unfinished inside but a wood-burning stove for cold days and a big fan for hot ones Thus ends how I came to settle in the Bearsville Valley only two miles from Woodstock."

A native New Yorker, Dorothy Varian, although she has lived and studied in Europe, admits that she has never seen any part of the Western United States. Far from parochial in her views, however, her wide range of interests is evident in her reading. An avid reader of both prose and poetry (one of her favorite pastimes is re-reading Eliot's "Four Quartets"), she is also a serious student of Eastern Philosophies, interested in Zen long before it was the "in thing." It is, perhaps, the Zen teachings of the power of essentials, of the beauty of suggestion, that so infuses Ms. Varian's paintings in their quiet, but powerful presences. Most assuredly, the wisdom of the East is evident in her humorthat ability to laugh in the face of all the trumpery of "mankind's high seriousness."

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