Jean Varda was a bigger-than-life character on the art scene in Northern California. He taught at the California School of Fine Arts (later SFAI), hung out with Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin in Big Sur, as well as Alan Watts, Gerd Stern, and Maya Angelou in Sausalito. In 1947, Jean Varda is the person who originally squatted on the 19th century, 414-ton ferry boat Vallejo we wrote about just a few weeks ago, when we discussed The Houseboat Summit of 1967. After the Marinship boat building operations funded by the US government shut down after WWII, Varda arranged with an old friend from Black Mountain College to purchase the Vallejo and towed her to a berth where they started retrofitting her as a studio for numerous artists.
In 2016, we hosted author Elizabeth Leavy Stroman for a booksigning upon the release of her new book, The Art and Life of Jean Varda. It was a very special night, as she was joined on stage by a friend of Varda’s, author Herb Gold. The book itself is probably the most beautiful coffee table book I’ve ever seen.
With this first full-length biography of Jean Varda, Stroman vividly brought this piece of hidden history back to light. Stroman takes the reader from Varda’s birthplace in Izmir, Turkey (then called Smyrna, part of the Ottoman Empire) to France and England, where he consorted with Braque, Picasso, Matisse, and writers like Ezra Pound, Aldous Huxley, and Dylan Thomas. Then she recounts his days in California, where he presided over a raucous, often libertine subculture of artists and hangers-on, who scandalized mainstream society with their antics.
Last week in a back room at The Beat Museum we stumbled upon a handful of unsold first editions of The Art & Life of Jean Varda we purchased for the 2016 event, still in their shrink-wrap! When we checked online, we found only two other copies of this magnificent book that are currently available, both selling in the $1,000 range.
We’re offering these pristine copies for sale via our website. They’re not cheap (we need the dough to pay bills!) but they are very competitively priced versus market value, and they are quite unique. You won’t be disappointed.
In the 7-minute video featuring Anaïs Nin and San Francisco filmmaker Mary Kerr, Varda describes the life, compulsion and religious experience of the artist.
“Freedom is when the imperious hand of Destiny say, ‘Paint.’ And you say, but I have varicose veins. ‘Paint.’ And my stepson is dying of lung cancer. ‘Paint.’ And my child has not enough milk to drink. ‘Paint.’ Or go to the North Pole. Or convert the Cannibals to Christianity. Or play the violin… This man is not free. He can not choose. He is like a murderer. He’s marvelous. Marvelous!”