I walked into a Frida Kahlo retrospective at an Amsterdam Museum in 1981. I had never heard of her. The paintings took my breath away – the beauty, pain, rage, mystery, and urgency. She demanded attention. She was not a casual artist. Her art cuts to the bone.
Frida is an icon in México, revered. She is also a commodity. The markets are full of tacky Frida knockoffs, her extraordinary paintings, and rare photographs destroyed for lack of respect.
The Challenge! To create a Frida Kahlo art that was original, had something to say and wasn’t exploiting her. That was my goal.
I did months of research before I started work. I looked at all of her paintings, read about her life, and thought about what Frida would want. She was always filled with desire; I wanted to meet her desire.
I reread Barbara Kingsolver’s vivid novel, The Lacuna. Told by Harrison William Shepherd. We first meet him at age 12 with his self-dramatizing Mexican mother in a hacienda of a wealthy gentleman on the Isle de Pixol. His estranged father is a government man living in the ole USA. We meet William at age twelve. The young man keeps a journal detailing his life. In the end, he returns to the Isle de Pixol and dives into the lacuna, disappearing. During his adolescence and young adult years, he works in the kitchen becoming an intimate member of the Kahlo/Rivera household. It is a compelling, entertaining read. Part historical novel, part coming of age story, all mesmerizing drama. Frida comes to life with such beauty and complexity. I felt as if I knew Frida after reading this novel.
I imagine Frida floating with her beloved parrots and spider monkey on a magic carpet. It was the enchanted fabric she rides is a reference to Frida’s famous color fashion photograph. The photos is commonly referred to as the “Vogue photograph.” She was in Vogue, but not in that photograph. I carefully recreated the pattern by hand.
My original concept was that Frida would ascend to a place of peace and comfort. Images from her paintings falling towards the planet earth. A release, The images express beauty, agony, and sorrow: some symbolic, some not. Letting go brings peace as she floats ever upwards.
It didn’t work. The moment I replaced them with monarch butterflies rising with her, positive forces supporting her, everything fell into place. The butterflies are a symbol of rebirth.
The other day, I ran across Kahlo painting images I created to fall to Earth from Frida’s magic carpet.
The drafts of these images in this blog are roughhewn. Sketches.
I have other Frida Kahlo projects in the works.
These images inspire me.