Jean 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 representational content of his art.

His mother, a muralist in Smyra, Greece, first taught Jean Varda. In 1913, Varda moved to Paris and studied at the Ecole de Beaux Art in Paris, shared a studio with Braque, met Matisse and Picasso. In 1939 he moved to the United States. Varda was successful selling his art in New York, but he preferred to live in California. 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, North Carolina; Pratt Institute, New York; and at the California School of Fine Arts, now called the San Francisco Institute of Art.