FRIDA KAHLO’S VISION
I always loved the paintings of Frida Kahlo. We all know her story—a trolly car accident early in her life left her body in a state of brokenness. She probably painted to not go insane from the pain, and she happened to be good at it. Frida met and married Diego Rivera after her accident, the celebrated master muralist, and the two of them had a tumultuous life together. Diego fucked his models, but when he screwed her own sister, something snapped. They split for awhile. Then Frida had her own share of affairs as well, most notably with Communist party expatriate Leon Trotsky, and later with Hungarian photographer living in America, Nikolas Murray. That one went on for ten years. Some of the most compelling photos of her were taken by Murray. He gave her the affections reminiscent of her father, who adored her and was a professional photographer himself.
There is something captivating about Frida Kahlo. Much of her work was self portraiture. She said because of the long periods bedridden or homebound from her ailments, she spent a lot of time alone, and knew no one better than herself. Therefore she was the most likely subject. But more than that, she looked captivating naturally. Like her looks have the X-factor. One can barely stop gazing at her beauty, which is edgy, and at the same time heart opening—like a triple bypass. One feels her beauty. Be that as it may, a beautiful terror.
She was certainly colorful. Coming to age in the years of the great depression, I am sure her penchant for color was in huge contrast to the doldrums of the day. She was imbued with the colorful culture of Mexican folk art. But more than the color, connecting with the nature of things and rising above the limitations of social struggle were what the roots of her art and Diego’s art were all about.
There is no doubt that Frida was passionately in love with Diego. This painting of her in a wedding mantilla with the organicism of dried leaves and flowers and plant tendrils gives us a juxtaposition of surrealist candor. And Diego is prominently on her mind, like a kind of “third eye” presence of holy adoration. It is beautiful and unsettling at the same time. .
The poet Rilke wrote in Duino Elegies:
“Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’ hierarchies? and even if one of them pressed me against his heart: I would be consumed in that overwhelming existence. For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.”Duino Elegies: The First Elegy
I love Rilke, and he always takes me beyond my thought into another realm of truth that is so close to the transition between this world of matter and the “hierarchies” of a Spiritual Reality. “For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror, which we still are just able to endure, and we are so awed because it serenely disdains to annihilate us. Every angel is terrifying.” This would get me to pondering in reference to Frida Kahlo’s compelling imagery. A Terrifying Angel, one would have to say. The ego must come to an end in viewing her paintings, as you enter into another sacred space that is not of the ordinary humdrum of existence, as it imbues the corporeal with an unsettling presence of an otherworldly gaze.
Her Connection to Nature
There are many influences in her work, all very grounded in the Mexican roots and psyche—a kind of a conglomerate of indigenous animism and primitivism, ritual Aztec sacrifice, Catholic suffering-as-holy, and a sophisticated formal legacy of European self-assuredness—all barreling toward us in this hybrid of provocative passion we see as Frida Kahlo. She more or less made herself into a Religious Icon of the Passion of the “suffering heart” of Christ.
But it is not the Catholic Church theology of redemption that saves Frida from her suffering. Rather it is a Mother Nature with an indigenous pulse of the very Mexican soil that suckled and gave birth to this native daughter of a truly visual voice.
Up from the Earth Do We Return
While in California Frida painted this portrait of the famed botanist Luther Burbank. It is telling of her affections. Earth, plants, roots, and even the metamorphosis of human life and death out of the Great Mother of this natural drama would obsess her with an imagery of human botany. We are a species of natural symbiosis, caught in an illusion of industrial revolution’s progress.
Kahlo and Rivera embraced the dynamism of this industrial age, at the same time knew there was a root thread that would eventually tie them, and everyone in this world, back to the earth out of which we came. And this does not supplant the heavenly, the angelic in their work, especially Frida’s.
She stands between two worlds. Between the momentum of an industrialized and mechanically exploitive rush toward the gold of a glittering megalopolis, both modern (USA) and ancient (AZTEC), and the slow creepers of growth that would inevitably endure when all else comes to naught. The “day of the dead” is voluptuously delicious in every way.
Get Back to the Garden
We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devil’s bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
back to the gardenJoni Mitchell, from her song “Woodstock”
Frida Kahlo takes us back there. And yes, through the pain and the tumult of an encounter with the injuries and struggles of this body life, she makes the stand for truth: We are stardust in time. A billion years of carbon built us up into these remarkable human entities. We are golden of a different nature. Not the gold of a devil’s bargain of industrialized exploits, but that of the Mother Lode of Eden’s promise. Frida takes us BACK THERE. The question we must ask ourselves is do we wanna return back along with her? You will be released with her. And, you can even smoke a cigarette with no guilt.