A biologist by training, Juan Varela has devoted his professional life to illustration, bringing new ideas to a discipline identified for centuries with scientific exploration.
Varela trained as a biologist at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and quickly made a start in research, first in the Cabrera archipelago and later inthe lesser known Chafarinas Islands. Art and science have since been two intertwining strands in his career. In 1984, he co-founded the Mediterranean Seabird Association, MEDMARAVIS, with an Italian and a Belgian researcher, and was later official representative in Spain of the Artists for Nature Foundation (Netherlands), an international organization that uses members’ artworks to alert the world to the urgency of protecting the natural environment.
In 1986, Varela was appointed Director of the Sociedad Española de Ornitología (SEO), where he stayed for four years before abandoning his directorship to concentrate on art. He singles out three works from this period of his career. One is Guía de las aves de España, the first handbook of its kind written and illustrated by Spanish ornithologists with the amateur birdwatcher in mind, whose almost 40,000 sales mark it out as a publishing success. The other two were created to accompany traveling exhibitions: Les terres de Baliar, about the Balearic Islands – the proceeds of the artworks sold went to fund the expenses of volunteers working in the clean-up of the Prestige oil spill; and Entre mar y tierra, a diary kept during his travels round the wetlands of southern Andalucía supplemented by watercolors.
Varela has authoredaround twenty books, contributed to over forty out-reach publications – encyclopedias, magazines, newspapers, posters – and edited a number of collections, including one comprising twenty-two volumes. He has shown his work at over forty museums and galleries in Europe and the United States and has curated five exhibitions. Experts agree that the artistic excellence of his work magnifies its power as a conservation tool.
Juan Varela’s selfless collaboration with scientific and conservationist organizations has earned him national and international repute as a wildlife artist. Not only that, “his ongoing engagement with the training of new illustrators ensures the continuity of an artistic discipline of key importance in relaying to society the importance of biological diversity,” the jury concluded.