(Click photo to enlarge)
I am drawn to survivors whose spirit pushes through trauma to emerge in a life affirming way despite it all. In Frida Kahlo’s case, that emergence is a fireworks of colour and imagination. She survived polio at age 7, being speared through her chest by a pole in a bus accident at age 18, subsequent body casts, surgeries throughout her life, and miscarriages. She began to paint while incapacitated, and her art is at times painful, funny, beautiful, but always vivid.
I recently saw an exhibit of her work paired with that of her husband, Diego Rivera, at the Art Gallery of Ontario. He was a master technician, but for me his most interesting work were his still lifes, vivid in colour and texture, painted when he was a young man, some fifteen years before his marriage to Frida. He was 20 years older, the more prominent artist in his time (being male helped), hired to paint murals for communists and capitalists alike. (Rockefeller had his own mural destroyed when Rivera refused to paint over the portrait of Lenin within it.) The murals are propaganda and about as imaginative as propaganda is ever allowed to be.
Frida Kahlo’s imagination was unlimited by politics, but her rendering of it was subjected to physical limitations: pain, incapacitation. Maybe that’s why many of her paintings were small. She is famous for her self-portraits, the unibrow and the mustache, which she exaggerated in her paintings. (Because of playing with gender? Because of the hirsuteness of the indigenous and Latin branches of her family rather than the German?) They were striking, but I am still haunted by Kahlo’s “A Few Small Nips”, which she painted in reaction to her husband’s affair with her sister. (Both of them had multiple affairs, but presumably this went beyond the pale.) What I liked best were the rich and humorous still lifes like “The Bride Frightened At Seeing Life Opened” (click to enlarge):
These images give the barest hint of the originals. For me, what stood out were the intensity of her work and her life, the passion, the rebellion, the colour. It makes me want to write. It makes me ask myself how do I write?
What matters most? What colour, what life, what vividness is there within to bring to bear in the world?