This autumn, Waddington Custot presents a solo exhibition of the Greek artist Sophia Vari (b.1940, Athens, Greece; d.2023, Monte Carlo, Monaco). Offering an overview of Vari’s work from the past 20 years, the exhibition includes sculptures in marble, bronze and silver, together with oils, collage and watercolours on canvas.
A prominent theme in the exhibition is the power and strength of women; the artist was a believer in a divine feminine energy, and her graceful sculptures express a quiet force. Vari’s was a constant, and obsessive goal to find an expression of balance through her sculptures, which deftly use space and form to achieve harmony in their composition. While the works are entirely abstract, evocative titles would emerge for the artist on their completion: ‘Maternity’, 2007, and ‘Birth’, 2008 are two examples. The marble sculpture ‘Pleine Lune’, 2022, one of the artist’s final works, reveals itself to contain a full circle as the viewer turns around it. Historically, the moon has been considered as spiritually potent: it is connected to fertility and womanhood, and to the natural phases of life, growth, decay and rebirth, due to its own 28-day cycles of waxing and waning. Vari returned to this motif again in dark bronze, which suggests the importance she bestowed upon it.
Vari’s sculptures reveal an interest in relationships: between shape and surface, and solid form and voids. Each sculpture is composed of interlocking, interrelating shapes, which together suggest a fluid, undulating motion, emphasised by the smooth surface of the materials and subtle contrasts of light and shade. Included in this exhibition are Vari’s monochromatic sculptures in white marble – the artist uses the bright and sparkling Thassos stone – and others in a black patinated bronze, the contrast between which brings an understated drama to the gallery space. A number of sculptures in silver accentuate Vari’s interest in movement and light, due to their highly reflective finish, while her polychromatic sculptures cleverly combine black and white to accentuate the shapes within the sculpture.
By showing a combination of works in different media the exhibition brings to light the coherent visual language developed by Vari over her career, one which is international in scope, drawing from her Greek heritage and Cycladic traditions, from ancient Egypt, Mexico, and from the cultures of the cities in which she has held studios across the world. From her studio in Paris, France, Vari absorbed the enduring influence of Cubist artists; in Medellín, Colombia she learnt of the Olmec and Mayan traditions of South America. From Vari's studio in Pietrasanta, Italy, famous for its historic marble production but also important bronze foundries, she joined a long history of artists living and working in the region, deepening her understanding of the media. In developing her watercolour and paintings, Vari would respond to the specific quality of the light in the city or country from which she was working; in contrast to her monochromatic sculptures, these works employ a wide range of colours. Those created in Colombia and Mexico typically comprise heady pinks, deep reds and oranges, while canvasses completed in Greece employ stark whites and blues, a reaction to the hard brightness of the sun. Their titles conjure specific atmospheres: ‘Rosée tardive’, 2008, takes its title from the dew which appears in the evening; ‘Signe du couchant’, 2007, references a sunset.
The sculptural works range in size from the tabletop, to monumental: Vari strove to achieve a sense of monumentality in even her smallest sculptures. As early as the mid-1970s, a time when women sculptors were met with considerable resistance in a male-dominated art world, Vari was pursuing a practice on an increasingly ambitious scale. Over the subsequent decades, she would continue making art on her own terms, eventually gaining recognition for her work. Her works have been installed in prominent locations in cities such as Beijing, Paris, Athens, Tenerife, Monte Carlo, Madrid and New York City. 12 monumental works by Vari are on public display in Park Avenue, New York in 2023.
Closing the exhibition is the tabletop marble ‘Joie de vivre’, 2022, one of Vari’s final sculptures in marble, which condenses her attitude to life and her strict adherence in all of her work to the principles of composition, harmony and beauty.