Chavarría (1927-1998) was a recluse who lived with three maiden aunts. He created hundreds of easel-sized oil paintings on masonite, and numerous smaller works. For four decades his principal patron was Bryna Prensky, an American gallery owner from Florida who moved to Mexico City in 1954. She bought most of Chavarría’s known works for her gallery and her own collection.
Prensky said she often found Chavarría in his pajamas at mid-day. He read widely and painted dreamlike images that reflect his wide-ranging scholarly interests. Much of his work is thought to have been inspired by poetry, especially the writings of André Breton, Paul Éluard, Arthur Rimbaud, and Paul Valéry; by the classic surrealism of Salvador Dalí; and by the paintings of Mexican neo-surrealist artists Remedios Varo and Leonora Carrington.
Nature and humor
Chavarría trained at the Academía San Carlos in Mexico City in the mid-1940s. “He was exposed to the influence of European Surrealism and after his complete withdrawal from society he never progressed beyond this style of painting, which he continued into the 1980s,” wrote Emily Olson in Transcending “insider” art: Enrique Chavarría, Surrealism, and Outsider art, a 2011 Master of Fine Arts thesis at Texas Christian University.
“As a result of his anachronism and his reclusive nature, his works were never attended to by scholarship. Due to a speech impediment and a possible undiagnosed and untreated mental disorder, Chavarría felt he could not communicate normally. He created an alternate universe in which he could symbolically live and explore his personal feelings by using a complex, idiosyncratic visual language based on the iconography of alchemy.”
The ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries Web site says Chavarría’s larger paintings “tend to be complex, full of movement and life, enriched by his knowledge of nature and wildlife.Unlike other surrealists and neo-surrealists, he often offers a humorous commentary on his subjects, such as a psychiatrist with the face of an owl, precariously mounted on a unicycle, seeking his way through a maze of symbols to a couch. According to Cynthia Hollis of the Florida International Museum, his paintings allow us to delve into other universes, ‘complete with their own cosmologies and laws of science.’”
ArtSpace/Virginia Miller Galleries is at 169 Madeira Ave. in Coral Gables. The Chavarría exhibit will continue through April. In addition to the works on display, the gallery has more than 60 others available.
Note: Click on the "Subscribe" button above to receive an email each time the Miami Travel Examiner publishes a new article.