Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What do I need my feet for if I have wings to fly

This is the second part of my post on Frida Kahlo.
 The idea of being deeply connected to nature pervades many of the themes of her paintings. She associated plants with life and fertility. “Roots” is a clear example of this.   In this picture she painted herself with an open bosom that exposes a vine thriving in her body. Frida was unable to carry her babies to term. She had many miscarriages.
Growing and nurturing plants may have helped her to cope with the pain of her losses. She painted plants with great care. The association of plants with life may also be connected with the Aztec poets’ perspective on plants and life: "We are the grass in spring. Our heart comes, it blooms and opens, our body causes some flowers to blossom, and then all withers." 
 Ironically, the plant that sprouts from her body is the Calotropis procera, also known as the Apple of Sodom. This plant contains a poisonous fluid in its leaves that was used by the Indians of Latin America to commit suicide.
 The background of “Roots” is desolate and gloomy, alluding to her loneliness. I noticed the same association in “The Two Fridas” and “Henry Ford Hospital”. The same applies to "The Little Deer".

 In this painting Frida becomes a deer. Her head is crowned with antlers and she withstands the suffering that life inflicts upon her in the form of arrows, a symbol of the fate that befell her.
  I believe she portrays her resilience here. The word “Carma” inscribed on the lower-left corner evokes a belief related to Eastern religions. Her unity with nature is made clear once again. 
 The deer is a male, and this may have to do with the fact that she'd kept a male deer as a pet.
 This is a painting she gave to her friends Arcady Boytler and his wife, Lina. She also wrote a poem to them along with this painting. (Arcady Boytler had back problems and he'd recommended her a surgeon in New York.)
 The deer walked alone
sad and very wounded
until in Arcady and Lina
he found warmth and a nest.

When the deer returns
strong, happy and cured
the wounds he has now
will all be erased.
Thank you, children of my heart,
thank you for so much advice.
In the forest of the deer
the sky is brightening
I leave you my portrait
so that you will have my presence
all the days and nights
that I am away from you.

Sadness portrays herself
in all my paintings
but that’s how my condition is
I no longer have structure.
Nevertheless, I carry
joy in my heart
knowing that Arcady and Lina
love me as I am.

 In 1938 she painted “What the Water Gave Me”, which appears to be a daydream she had while bathing.  This is what she said about this painting:
“It is an image of passing time about time and childhood games in the bathtub and the sadness of what happened to me in my life.” This painting incorporates elements from other paintings. 
  Her toes are mirrored by another pair of fragmented feet, but her legs are not well defined in space. They are also fragmented. The parts of the legs that are not visible are replaced by a variety of symbols and events, suggesting that her life had been disjointed by them.  She gave it to her lover Nickolas Muray, a photographer from Hungary.

In 1945 Frida painted “Moses” after reading Sigmund Freud’s essay “Moses and Monotheism”.  She said she'd painted the sun as the center of all religions, as the first god and as the creator and producer of life. This painting shows a pantheon of gods and historical figures.
 Frida was awarded the Ministry of Education Prize for "Moses" in 1945. I think this masterpiece encompasses the world's collective consciousness, religions and systems of beliefs.
About this painting she also said:
“What I wanted to convey most intensely, most clearly, was that the reason people need to invent or imagine heroes and gods is pure fear. Fear of life and fear of death. I started painting the figure of Moses as a child. I painted him as he is described in many legends, abandoned in a basket and floating along a river. I tried to make the open basket, covered with an animal hide, as reminiscent as possible of a womb, because—according to Freud—the basket is an exposed womb, and water signifies the maternal spring from which the child is born.”

In "Sun and Life" the sun reappears as a central figure amid plants that look like penises and wombs. One of them seems to harbor a baby. The sun has a face with  a third eye that is weeping.  Her obsession with fertility is present in many of her artworks. 
 The year before she died her right leg had to be amputated below the knee. She became very depressed after this surgery.

 This is the last painting she worked on before she died in 1954.  On one of the slices of watermelon she wrote her name, the name of her hometown (Coyoacan) and the words “Viva la Vida” (Long Live Life). She might have tried to challenge death through this powerful image. 
   The year she died the first polio vaccine (Salk) was tested in the United States. In Mexico women were granted the right to vote for the first time. 
  Frida kahlo's legacy is still alive, enshrined in the spirit of resilience that she instilled in her works. Like a beacon of hope, her art continues to inspire and empower people all over the world.

 My next blog post will be published by March 27.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Frida Kahlo

I paint myself because I am the subject I know best. I really don’t know whether my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most honest expression of myself, taking no account of the opinions and prejudices of others.”
 Frida Kahlo
In the spring of 2008 I enjoyed an exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s works at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I was deeply impressed and inspired by the boldness of her originality and by the energy that emanates from her paintings.
 Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) was a self-taught artist with a skeptical attitude toward academic training. Yet she was a voracious reader of literary and scientific works, who had an unquenchable curiosity and an intense passion for learning.
 Through her art and life she challenged the status quo with the force of her authenticity. Just by looking at the first self-portrait on this post, you can see how she does not attempt to hide anything about her face -- not even her sadness. (I don’t remember seeing many paintings or photos of Frida Kahlo smiling.)
 Frida Kahlo had a streetcar accident when she was eighteen years old. This crash changed the course of her life, for she had to endure the consequences of it until her death at age 47.  Her physical ailments provided her with periods of solitude in which she explored her inner self and then dared to project this examination on her artworks.  
 She suffered extensive spinal and hip fractures, broken ribs and a broken foot as a result of this accident that made her abandon her plans to study medicine.
  During her life Kahlo produced around two-hundred works. 
 The self-portrait with Thorn Necklace and Humming-bird, for example, is a surreal image in which she wears a necklace similar to Christ’s crown of thorns. Her face expresses sorrow, but she is surrounded by plants and animals: there is a black cat, a monkey and butterflies. A humming-bird seems to be trying to disentangle something from the necklace.  The restraint around her neck contrasts with the beauty and wilderness of nature around her, as if she’d sought comfort in that universe. Mindful of this unity with nature, she expressed it in her works in surreal themes in which she also included elements related to cultural matters and religious symbols.
  Her works display her multiple identities and different dualities (sun-moon; man-woman; life-death, etc.)
 “I never painted dreams. I always painted my own reality,” she said.
 When poet and essayist Andre Breton visited Mexico, he came across Frida Kahlo’s works and described her art as “a ribbon around a bomb.” He encouraged her to exhibit her paintings in Paris.  

This photo of Frida Kahlo was taken by her lover Nickolas Muray. In this picture she wears the earrings that Pablo Picasso gave her as a token of his affection when she was in Paris for her exhibition in 1939. These earrings also appear in a self-portrait that she gave to her beloved friend Dr. Eloesser.
 Over the course of her difficult marriage to Diego Rivera, Kahlo gave more than 400 photographs and close to one-hundred letters to Dr. Eloesser to hold for safekeeping.  In 2006 this collection was donated to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C.
  In 1932 Kahlo and Rivera traveled to Philadelphia for a performance of the Mexican ballet, for which Rivera designed the sets and costumes.  The following month they moved to Detroit because Rivera had been commissioned to paint a mural at the Detroit Institute of Arts. Four months into a pregnancy Frida lost her baby and was admitted to  Henry Ford Hospital. She almost bled to death.  During this time, she painted "Henry Ford Hospital" and made the lithograph "Frida and the miscarriage".
 This same year, Frida painted Self-Portrait on the Borderline between Mexico and the United States, an intriguing masterpiece that deals with the conflicts of being trapped between two cultures. 
  On the Mexican side of the border we see the sun and the moon. On the American side the American flag levitates amid clouds of smoke spewed by the chimneys of a factory. There are also skyscrapers that contrast with the partially-ruined pre-Columbian temple on the Mexican side, where we also find pre-Columbian fertility idols and plants with visible roots.  Frida stands on a pedestal facing the Mexican side, a flag in her hand, as if she were trying to protect her native country from the shadows of industrialization. 
  In her painting “My Grandparents, My Parents and I” (1936), Frida shows her family tree. Her father was from  Germany, and her mother was a Mexican of mixed European and American Indian ancestry. In this picture Frida is a little girl. She is holding a red ribbon that supports her family tree. She looks much bigger than her family home. Under the ribbon, to her right, a school of sperm is targeting an ovum, and fertilization is about to take place. Close to this image, we  spot a flower and distinguish its reproductive structures. There is pollen floating over it. Frida reveals her mixed heritage here.
 Originally  her name was "Frieda".   In solidarity with the Jews she got rid of the letter "e" with the rise of Nazism. 

In 1939 she met the Surrealists in Paris and was disgusted by their elitism. She wrote a letter to her lover Nickolas Muray about this:
“You have no idea the kind of bitches these people are. They make me vomit. They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore. It is really too much for my character. I rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than to have anything to do with those ‘artistic' bitches of Paris. They sit for hours on the ‘cafes’ warming their precious behinds, and talk about culture, art, revolution and so on and so forth, thinking themselves the gods of the world, dreaming the most fantastic nonsense and poisoning the air with theories that never come true.”
   Frida witnessed the suffering of republican refugees from the Spanish Civil War and arranged for 400 of them to immigrate to Mexico.

The Two Fridas (1939) was completed after she divorced her husband, Diego Rivera. One of the Fridas -- the rejected one -- has a broken heart and is trying to stop her blood from dribbling. This appears to be futile; blood continues to spill over her white dress. The other Frida has an intact heart and a picture of her former spouse, whom she would remarry a year later.  
   The two women clasp hands, hinting at the idea that she was her most reliable source of comfort and support.
 In 1939 she wrote an entry in her diary that helps us to understand the creation of The Two Fridas. When Frida was a child she suffered from polio. It was around this time when she created an imaginary friend that she described in her diary entry.
 “I must have been 6 years old when I experienced intensely an imaginary friendship with a little girl the same age as me. On the glass window of what at that time was my room, I breathed vapor onto one of the first panes. I let out a breath and with a finger I drew a ‘door’. Full of great joy and urgency I went out in my imagination through this ‘door’…
“I went down in great haste into the interior of the earth, where my ‘imaginary friend’ was always waiting for me. I do not remember her image or her color. But I do know that she laughed a lot without sounds. She was agile and she danced as if she weighed nothing at all. I followed her in all her movements and while she danced I told her my secret problems. Which ones? I do not remember. But from my voice she knew everything about me… Twenty-six years have passed since I experienced this magic friendship and every time I remember it, it revives and becomes larger and larger inside of my world.”
I will post the second part of my post on Frida Kahlo by March 12.