Short Biography by Heide Foley

Jean (Yanko) Varda is best known as a collagist. From 1949 to his death in 1971, Varda experimented with paper, woven textiles, designer fabrics and painting in collage. His color theories and cubist influences are reflected
in the bright, half abstract, half real content of his art. Varda believed art came from joy. He often made works of women, the still life, exotic towns with banners flying and the celestial city.

Varda was first taught by his mother, a muralist in Smyra, Greece. Then he had several instructors in Alexandria who taught him the great renaissance masters and realism. In 1913 Varda moved to Paris where the influences of Dadaism and Cubism changed his style irrevocably. Switching from chiaroscuro seascapes, portraits and ship battles to a form of mosaic and scratched mirrors, Varda explored his Greek roots, the natural brilliance of light and Byzantium philosophy.

In 1916, he studied at the Ecole de Beaux Art in Paris, shared a studio with Braque, met Matisse and Picasso. He traveled to Italy to take notes on the works of Raphael, Michelangelo, Giotto, and Fra Angelico. From 1925 to 1939
he showed in Europe, then he moved to the United States.

Varda was successful selling his art in New York, but he preferred to live in California. There he befriended Henry Miller and Anais Nin. The collage work he began during the 7 years he lived in Big Sur was surrealistic,
described as 'dreamscapes'.

In 1949, Varda built a studio in Sausalito with Gordon Onslow-Ford on the decommissioned ferryboat, Vallejo. In the early 1960s Ford sold his share to Dr. Alan Watts, the Englishman who introduced Zen Buddhism to America.
Varda taught at university level, including Black Mountain College, NC; Pratt Institute, NY; and CSFA, now called the San Francisco Institute of Art.

Varda has shown at: Neumann Willard Gallery, NY; "Art in Action" Pavilion at the Golden Gate International Expose; Walker Art Center, Chicago, IL; M.H. de Young Memorial Musuem, SF,CA; Brand Library Art Gallery, Glendale,
CA; the Oakland Musuem, CA; and many more.

"There are 3 perfect shapes in the world: a boat's hull, a violin, and a woman's body" - Jean Varda

Credit:
Heide Foley, a volunteer at the Sausalito Historical Society, has unearthed a significant amount of biographical information on Jean Varda and other Northern Californian artists of the 1930s-1960s. She lives in Sausalito on the ferryboat Vallejo where Varda lived for 20 years, taught classes and had his studio.

 


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