We saw the FRIDA KAHLO show at the Hungarian National Gallery.
During the Budapest Quest we had an off day on Sunday. Sondra and I used our time wisely, and went to see the Frida Kahlo Exhibit at the Hungarian National Gallery. It was a warm summer day, and atop the castle complex of the Royal Palaces, we entered the courtyard of the National Gallery overlooking the magnificent Blue Danube River.
Frida Kahlo was a monumental and also tragic figure, achieving iconic status as a prominent woman painter from Mexico in first half of the 20th century. You could put her with the likes of Georgia O’Keefe. Together, though independently, they pioneered the cause of women to be seriously recognized in the world of modern art. Kahlo, married to the Mexican muralist painter, Diego Rivera, underwent painful bouts of illnesses, spinal injuries, miscarriages, and long periods of convalescence. Often she painted in bed. The themes of her paintings often depicted her suffering. She was a vivid colorist, and all her paintings captured a kind of intensity of inner vision. We saw this exhibit with delight. It is great to have a body of an artist’s work available in one place for perusal. This gives you an overview of their major themes and contributions.
Portraits by Frida Kahlo look directly into you.
I am interested in faces in my own work. Call them “portraits.” But for me this is a meeting with a presence, a direct encounter with the “beingness” of the face depicted. Frida Kahlo paints into the psyche of the person, into the core of their being. One wonders about the whole life of the subject. We are drawn into their aliveness, and become very interested. “Who are these people?” we wonder.
Frida painted herself a lot, too. In fact, most of her best works are “Self-Portraits” that depict not only her external and striking looks, but her internal state of being that goes beyond just a surreal combination of things. Because she had tried to have children with Diego and failed on multiple attempts, she took to having pets around her that she put in her pictures. They become the “surrogate children,” which replace the ones that painfully eluded her.
A natural painter, Frida had very little formal training. She gravitated to a mature style on her own, and perhaps her relationship with Diego Rivera was the only “school” she needed. And as well, her acute observation of life led to produce a distinct style of powerful imagery. Even if you do not understand all the elements in her paintings, and their origins in the iconography of her life, the vividness and powerful presence of these elements are extremely captivating.
A simple still life takes on the sophisticated drama of a grand adventure, right down to a flag planted on the colorful scene of fruit, worlds won and guarded by a conquering canine sentry, in black burnished ceramic style common around Mexico City. A small but potent masterpiece often emerges in the oeuvre of FRIDA KAHLO. This is one of them.
The “Earth Mother” in the midst of the ancient Mexican Indian traditions is also present in Frida Kahlo’s work. She paints herself being nurtured by a kind of Pre-Colombian Mother Goddess in this painting: a stone faced goddess with a breast feeding voluptuous human body suckles the doll-like Frida with the plant veins of the earth mother’s natural sustenance. Behind is the starlit sky. The context is virtually cosmic! A little weird looking, but cosmic nonetheless.
The Tradition of Aztec and Mayan artifacts that preceded the western Spanish conquest of Mexico are obviously an influence in Frida Kahlo’s work. The Catholic Church’s love for religious iconography is somehow transmuted into a kind of pagan Promethean drama. Kahlo steals the fire from the traditional religious icons and infuses her imagery with an other worldliness of shamanistic authenticity. She is the shaman of her own spiritual/mental/physical unification. She paints not in a “surreal manner,” but rather what is wholly in her own psycho-spiritual field. She does so in a manner that is as corporeal as she can possibly make these very visceral images that make up her inner reality.
The art of her predecessors appear in her paintings.
The head of a Pre-Colombian stone figure appears as the face of the “Earth Goddess.” Why not? Frida had let go of the traditional Catholic iconography and was one of the first to embrace the full art history of this ancient Mexican culture. The Indian roots had never really left, so why not call them out into the international arena of modern art? Kahlo became an artistic medicine woman, so to speak, of these power points and potent threads of the whole of a Mexican cultural inheritance. She was determined to use everything in her personal and cultural heritage to imbue her pictorial storytelling—a shaman in her own right.
Her portrait of a modern day horticulturalist and botanist, Luther Burbank, speaks of her own love for nature and the plant world. She paints him growing out of a tree, and almost becoming the tree itself. He becomes a pillar of loving life stream in front of a cloud laden sky of Nature’s cycle of grace. Even the cycle of death is depicted at the bottom: the man becomes a skeleton of rotting flesh, to be the fertilizer of new life. The roots suck up the life force derived from the dead. This is a very profound statement of immortality. There is no “death.” Only the continuity of nature’s eternal cycles are true.
What could be the real message of Frida Kahlo?
In the last room of the exhibit titled “Fridamania,” Kahlo’s influence is depicted. She had an impact, not only upon the world of art, but also on the world of fashion, pop culture, and even the spiritual development of a burgeoning movement of women’s liberation. Frida had her own vision in an era in which not many women had their own vision. She painted with fervor in the midst of her own terrible infirmities. One could say she overcame them. Her fame today is a kind of testimony to this immortal liberation. She was not the one to be limited by physical pain or decrepitude. Or even by a single “lifetime” as “Frida Kahlo.”
Seen by many young artists as a kind of savior figure, we completed our Art Look in the last room of works that showed Frida Kahlo’s worldwide influence. This artist painted her with the sacred heart of a passionate love for life, and death, and the cycle of the natural plant world. She is infused with a kind of Catholic fire of the “Mother of God,” Herself. She was the artistic Divine Mother of a great mystery, nevertheless leaving behind a very vivid legacy of paintings which make clear this mystery. What truth could be so bizarre that Frida Kahlo could not capture and depict. She brought reason to the unreasonable, and beauty to the transcendence of pain.
Tattooed on our hearts and minds, Frida Kahlo is an indelible image on the limbs of our love for painting the art of life. She does not shirk from the dark side, but she does not block out the light either. The colorful legacy of her work will continue to inspire, to uplift us out of a dull and mundane tendency. She breaks us out of the ordinary molds of “life as usual,” and gets us to think in different terms, to look with different eyes. I am indebted, as many of us are, to her wonderful, yet sometimes brutal honesty of that which she is seeing. Any ART LOOK can do nothing more than this, and she does it with extreme self-mastery.
LOVE you guys who read these things,