Jean Varda was a legendary iconoclast in the 20th century art world. Acclaimed first in Europe for his “Byzantine-Cubist mosaics,” fashioned from broken glass, mirrors, and crockery, and later, after he moved to the United States, for his colorful collages, he was equally acknowledged as a teacher, a raconteur, and a man of infinite charm and wit. Yet by the time of his death in 1971, Varda was known primarily as an outlandish character who surrounded himself with very young women and lived and partied on a wreck of an old ferryboat in Sausalito, near San Francisco. Almost half a century later, he has been all but forgotten. With this first full length biography of Jean Varda, Elizabeth Leavy Stroman has vividly brought this piece of previously hidden history back to light. Stroman takes the reader from Varda’s birthplace in the ancient Ottoman Empire to France and England, where he consorted with Braque, Picasso, Matisse, and writers like Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, and Dylan Thomas, then to California, where his friends included Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Maya Angelou, and Alan Watts and he presided over a raucous, often libertine sub-culture of artists and hangers-on who scandalized mainstream society with their antics.
‘The Art and Life of Jean Varda’ makes clear that Varda, better known today as an outlandish character than as a serious artist, was in fact both. Stroman cuts through the myths that Varda created about himself, while celebrating them at the same time. A lively book, deeply researched, well illustrated. David Weinstein