Frida Kahlo – Beneath the Mirror
Her serene face encircled in a wreath of flaming hair, the broken, pinned, stitched, cleft and withered husk that once contained Frida Kahlo surrendered to the crematory’s flames. The blaze heating the iron slab that had become her final bed replaced dead flesh with the purity of powdered ash and put a period – full stop – to the Judas body that had contained her spirit. Her incandescent image in death was no less real than her portraits in life.
Frida Kahlo should have died 30 years earlier in a horrendous bus accident, but her pierced, wrecked body held together long enough to create a legend and a collection of work that resurfaced 30 years after her death. Her paintings struck sparks in a new world prepared to recognise and embrace her gifts.
Her paintings formed a visual diary, an outward manifestation of her inward dialog that was, all too often, a scream of pain. Her paintings gave shape to memories, to landscapes of the imagination, to scenes glimpsed and faces studied.
The painter and the person are one and inseparable and yet she wore many masks. With intimates, Frida dominated any room with her witty, brash commentary, her singular identification with the peasants of Mexico and yet her distance from them, her taunting of the Europeans and their posturing beneath banners: Impressionists, Post- Impressionists, Expressionists, Surrealists, Social Realists, etc. in search of money and rich patrons, or a seat in the academies.
And yet, as her work matured, she desired recognition for herself and those paintings once given away as keepsakes. What had begun as a pastime quickly usurped her life.
The singular consistent joy in her life was Diego Rivera, her husband, her frog prince, a fat Communist with bulging eyes, wild hair and a reputation as a lady killer. She endured his infidelities and countered with affairs of her own on three continents consorting with both strong men and desirable women.
But in the end, Diego and Frida always came back to each other like two wounded animals, ripped apart with their art and politics and volcanic temperaments and held together with the tenuous red ribbon of their love.
Her paintings on metal, board and canvas with their flat muralist perspectives, hard edges and unrepentant sweeps of local colour reflected his influence. But where Diego painted what he saw on the surface, she eviscerated herself and became her subjects.
As Frida’s facility with the medium and mature grasp of her expression sharpened in the 1940s, that Judas body betrayed her and took away her ability to realise all the images pouring from her exhausted psyche. Soon there was nothing left but narcotics and a quart of brandy a day.
Diego Rivera – His Art and His Passions
I was aware of Diego Rivera, the Mexicanmuralist, long before I encountered the many other “Diego Riveras” that roamed the world between the beginning of the twentieth century and the late 1950s.
While his easel paintings and drawings constitute a large body of both his early and late work, his unique murals explode off walls in virtuoso performances of mind-staggering organisation. On those walls the man, his legend and myths, his technical talent, his intense story-telling focus and self-indulgent ideological convictions all come together.
Large, damp, soft-boiled lunarian eyes set in a moon face above a mouth designed for self-gratification peer expectantly from beneath heavy lids to create a frog-like portrait that sits upon a fleshpadded, tear-drop shaped body. But this large man who filled doorways and caused chairs to groan ominously had small, childlike hands.
He appeared soft and lazy, but his endurance often stretched to eighteen hours a day on a scaffold with brush in hand in front of his mural walls. His personal life was a chaos of politics, seductions, parties, travel, marriages and creating his own myth, but his work at the wall was, of necessity, precisely choreographed to co-ordinate his creative execution with the time-driven demands of plaster fresco.
In his memoir Rivera, the struggling young artist, praised Picasso to the skies for liberating painters from the grip of stagnation. To his friends he accused Picasso of stealing elements of Cubist technique from him and seethed as Picasso advanced while he remained bogged down in Paris still without a style of his own.
He was a life-long believer in the ideal of Communism and mostly in denial concerning its ruthless reality. Who could possibly embrace the strict ideology of Communism and still work for rich capitalists?
Diego Rivera played many roles, some better than others, but deep inside – and more than a third of his life had passed before he realised this truth – was Mexico, the language of his thoughts, the blood in his veins, the azure sky above his resting place.
Finally, when all the Sturm und Drang of a life lived at the gallop settled and he had achieved his master’s gift of technique and fully embraced his creative goals, there was Mexico, her history and her stories. Those stories and the life of Diego Rivera mingle as a swift-flowing river gathers the earth into its stream.
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