Frida’s Elusive Mistique

6 Jul

Frida in pencil, from a photograph.

I have been toying with the idea of writing a short series of articles about Frida Kahlo and her influence on mixed media artists today. It is an understatement to tell you that it’s difficult. I have sat down more than once to write down my ideas, to send e-mails to as many artists as I can asking them if they might be willing to respond to a couple of questions about their use of Frida’s image, why they use it and how they see this artist, how influential she is in their career.

I have come to understand that it is a personal failure of mine, this inability to put into words the how and why of my interest in this Mexican woman who was once simply known as Diego Rivera’s wife. I am not talking about Frida the Holliwood creation, the symbol of Mexical colorful musical culture, or the mad lover who once said she loved Diego “more than her own skin.” More than the quality or influences of her life’s work, Frida has become an icon recreated by all of us in the image that best suits our idea of her. The same thing has happened with her image. It doesn’t matter the size or the shape we give her, as long as we see the dark unibrow and the hair full of flowers and ribbons, we know it’s Frida. We have each of us created our own Frida, She who always refused to conform has become with time a pliable substance made of pain and vibrant colors, a suffering glory who procalims above all pain “Viva La Vida” – “Long Live Life”.

Frida con mico.

We may each have different reasons why Frida has been so attractive as as woman, an artist and an image. Some people may see her as a “go to” figure that has become so commercial that it’s sure to attract the attention of art buyers. Some feel an attraction to the colorful flowers, the clothes, the lush plants that sometimes adorn the background of her self-portraits. All of those things are attractive to me. But more than her image, her life and the resilience with which she faced pain, adversity and betrayal are my personal reasons to admire her and to have made her a part of my art and my life. I knew Frida was a Mexican artist, married to Diego Rivera the famous muralist, etc., etc., etc. But it wasn’t until I purchased Hayden Herrera’s book that I learned the details we all know now about her painful -physically and emotionally- existance.

Young Frida

I have not had to live a life in pain, having to undergo surgery after futile surgery to brake and reconstruct the spine. I did not have polio at the age of six. But there are some aspects of her life that trully resonate for me. Frida was unable to have children because of the horrible accident she suffered when she was eighteen. One of her biggest desires was to give Diego a child. It was not to be. I have a wonderful healthy son, but for a couple of years I have been trying to have another baby and it just hasn’t happened. Even worse, I finally got pregnant last year and misscarried shy of a first trimester. It was the most harrowing experience I have had to endure. Frida turned to painting since the accident to pass the time she had to spend in bed. Later on when time in bed became part of her life she would install a mirror above the bed so she could look at herself and paint her self-portraits. Art helped me after I lost my baby to channel all my anger and frustration of having had my dream destroyed. Months later I had to have surgery to remove one of my ovaries, reducing in half the chances of getting pregnant again. Since then I’ve had a journal and at least one pencil beside my bed, close enough for me to jot down my ideas and try out new techniques.

Frida Dreams The Pain Away - ATC

The first ATC (artist trading card) I ever made for a swap was my first drawing of Frida. Since I was not very good at doing facial features back then, I left her eyes closed. I followed the requirements of that particular swap and came up with this: It was the first of a dozen Fridas I have made. I love her image and every time I’m trying out a new medium or technique, I always make a Frida. It always makes me happy. If Frida has truly become an icon, I choose to dress her as Goddess. An empowering image full of life-giving strength, who gave of herself every time she painted a self-portrait as a gift for a friend, that struggled to remain permanent, an ever present image reconstructed in the retina of people’s memories. I think that is the experience I create for myself every time I paint. I do not paint self portraits, I paint women whom I have come to understan and accept as parts of me, versions of me. Pieces of a puzzle that make up who I am: woman, daughter, lover, mother, artist. This is my present for Frida on her birthday. An ongoing present that will hopefully grow as I grow with my work.

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One Response to “Frida’s Elusive Mistique”

  1. Pamela Carvajal Drapala July 9, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    Thank you for sharing your personal experiences and information on Frida. She has been my muse for sometime now, and I can identify with her life. I appreciate that you shared your experiences about your desires to have a second child. As difficult as it may have been for you, you have helped others as many women can relate to what has happened including me. Personal reasons, I am not ready to share my own experiences in that area. Please continue to write as it will get easier. And in reference to painting and drawing faces, you will improve with practice. Again, thanks for sharing and have a good month.

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