kahlo: sensuous transmutation and visionary longing

Undaunted. Defiant. Frida Kahlo is the textbook case of suffering for her art and transforming that suffering into art. Still, after all these years, her reputation seems to absorb new strands of thought which only augment the interest and intrigue surrounding her. From Freud’s theories of sublimation to feminism and to the revolutionary ideology of Trotsky; the apparent naivete underlined by an incendiary subtext that is permeated with sex and violence, life and death played out in original and profound ways always salted with the less savory aspects of her life. Still, there is always in her work a transfer from the secular to the spiritual. A sensuousness transmuted and re-directed towards mysticism and visionary longing. The promise of hope and radiance for a dark and bitter time….

---Some feminist art historians have struggled against such reworkings of women artists, but Kahlo's pop-culture mania revives it with a vengeance. Kahlo certainly facilitated this process by painting herself as the quietly suffering female. In every possible sense, the mass-culture Kahlo embodies that now-poisonous term: victimhood. She was the victim of patriarchal culture, victim of an unfaithful husband, and simply the victim of a horrific accident. But that's probably one reason why she's so popular. "People like to see women as victims," says Mary Garrard, a professor of art history at American University. --- Read More:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html image:http://www.artquotes.net/masters/frida-kahlo/frida-and-diego.htm

…The question is always would there be such interest in Kahlo if her life had been less tragic? There is a sense that she incarnates the Buddhist idea that beauty resides in pain with a strong challenge to god to justify suffering to the point of doubting its existence. How to deal with the catastrophic fragmentation and mutilation that seemed her sort, an almost guilt ridden survival. An art that would reflect the contradiction between being a silent suffering spokeswoman for passive stoicism as opposed to the messianic violence, the sometimes necessary aggression of the Trotsky credo.

---"We need our passion plays, whether they tell of the life of Jesus Christ or of Frida Kahlo, and this is very much a passion play. Her pain was the fuel for what she did. The pain and the art go together; you can't separate them. Though she suffered, it was a suffering that expressed itself in work that was sensual and alive. She was a person who had a huge appetite for life and was full of joy. She wasn't a fragile flower. She was a big, vulgar woman with missing teeth who smoked and drank, had affairs - including one with Trotsky - and gobbled up life." --- Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2002/oct/14/theatre.artsfeatures image:http://www.sell-art.net/frida-kahlo/

It was there, in Mexico, that a few “insane” Frenchmen found refuge. Frenchmen like Antonin Artaud and André Breton found a magical land open for discovery. Cardoza y Artagon described it as a “convulsive land” and the surrealists believed it to be a place where dreams, thought and creativity could construct a new world, way from the dark clouds of the old continent.

Mexico was far away from the hemorrhaged ancient regimes and immolating “civilization” of Europe. It was in La Casa Azul that Andre Breton wrote the Surrealist Manifesto. In La Casa Azul and its community, dreams of communism were discussed, criticized, winced at, and crossed out. It was in this world apart that Trotsky found refuge, friendship and later death….

---Frida Kahlo's (1907-1954) prize-winning1(p320) painting Moses examines the birth of the hero in myth and legend. Stimulated by Sigmund Freud's Moses and Monotheism, Kahlo provides her imaginative visual response to Freud's text. Her friend and patron, engineer José Domingo Lavín, had lent her the book to read and, noting her fascination with it, suggested that she paint her interpretation. In explaining the painting to a group of friends, she said that she read the book once and then began to paint her first impression. She told them that the theme was Moses, or the birth of the hero, but that she generalized this in her own way: "What I wanted to express most intensely and clearly was the reason that people need to invent or imagine heroes is because of their pure fear—fear of life and fear of death. Read More:http://archpsyc.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/extract/61/7/647

With Kahlo, there is an unequivocal assertion that feelings are rooted in instinct even as they make one conscious of oneself. It’s a service to consciousness and self-hood that is spiritual in import, and one that achieves an equilibrium of feeling without denying the extremes of its intensity. Like Soutine and Modigliani there is an avoidance of an austerity of form; a refusal to betray the feeling of being human and a courage to explore the pathos of being human.

Accepting the control of instinct is a sign and proof of being truly human. A spiritual being. Kahlo’s Moses painting suggests this concept of unitary self-hood and concentration of purpose. A sense of existential purpose. This is a different tack than Picasso. With Kahlo there is no inherent negativity of the death informed. No life negating anger to be sublimated into various and sundry distortions of the grotesque.

---Finally, the great joke on Rivera’s role as a heartless womanizer and Frida’s torturer is that it is Frida’s individualism that surpassed his art. At one point in the play, Rivera stares into space and predicts what will happen in the future. ”She is the great artist. I merely mix her colors.” Perhaps the most ironic line in the entire play is the following: “No one is going to ask me to come back,” Frida says. This line echoes the entry she made to her diary a few days before her death: “I hope the exit is joyful-and I hope never to return-Frida.” But now in the form of international retrospective shows such as the record-breaking one in Mexico City in 2007, Frida Kahlo is the worshipped one who keeps coming back.---Read More:http://dctheatrescene.com/2008/02/11/frida-kahlo-the-passion/ image:http://www.wikipaintings.org/en/frida-kahlo/the-deceased-dimas-1937

With Kahlo, there is an unwillingness to destroy dignity. There is a certain moral to the art,however circuitous and serpentine, an enduring respect for the human experience and a resi

ce to idealize form. There is a defiance in resisting the verdict of a failed humanity and an equal articulation that conveys a loving attitude to the human subject; a love of the human being that signifies that one does not want to destroy them.

….Never has a woman with a mustache been so revered–or so marketed–as Frida Kahlo. Like a female Che Guevara, she has become a cottage industry. In the past year, Volvo has used her self-portraits to sell cars to Hispanics, the U.S. Postal Service put her on a stamp, and Time magazine put her on its cover. There have been Frida look-alike contests, Frida operas, plays, documentaries, novels, a cookbook, and now, an English-language movie. Mexican beauty Salma Hayek recently debuted as Frida at the Cannes film festival (reportedly playing the role mustachioed, despite protests from Hollywood). Hayek, who wrestled the role away from Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, will join a star-studded cast that includes Latin Lothario Antonio Banderas.

---In 1936, Rivera, a dedicated Trotskyite, used his clout to petition the Mexican government to give Trotsky and his wife asylum after they were forced out of Norway. Rivera and Kahlo put up the Trotskys in Kahlo's family home, where Kahlo seduced the older man. (She painted a self-portrait dedicated to him that now hangs in Washington's NMWA.) After Trotsky was assassinated, however, Kahlo turned on her old lover with a vengeance, claiming in an interview that Trotsky was a coward and had stolen from her while he stayed in her house (which wasn't true). "He irritated me from the time that he arrived with his pretentiousness, his pedantry because he thought he was a big deal," she said. --- Read More:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html

The Kahlo cult has been well documented since it first emerged in the early 1990s. Back then, the artist was making headlines because her paintings were breaking records, fetching up to $1 million at auction, thanks in no small part to Madonna, an avid collector who claims to “identify with her pain and her sadness.” Today, those paintings have wildly surpassed that mark, breaking $10 million–a price that puts Kahlo in a league with Picasso, Pollock, and Warhol. Read More:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html

Stephanie Mencimer:Heroism serves the cause, and there is much of Kahlo's life that is not heroic. Many of her surgeries may have been unnecessary. Even Herrera notes, "If Frida's physical problems had been as grave as she made out, she would never have been able to translate them into art." Kahlo's close friend, the famous doctor Leo Eloesser, believed that she used her many surgeries to get attention from people, particularly from Rivera. There's no doubt that she was obsessed with him in a way that should make feminists cringe. She also made several suicide attempts and spent much of her adult life addicted to drugs and alcohol. Read More:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html


‘Tis not in me to unsheathe an avenging sword;
I cannot don phylactery to pray;
Weaponless, blessed with no works, and much abhorred,
This only is mine wherewith to face the horde:
The frozen patience waiting for its day,
The stance long-suffering, the stoic word,
The bright empirics that knows well that the
Night of the cauchemar comes and goes away,–
A baleful wind, a baneful nebula, over
A saecular imperturbability. ( A.M. Klein. Chiilde Harolde’s Pilgrimage)
This kind of analysis, which is just as often articulated by women as by men, follows another long tradition in art criticism of attributing stereotypical female values to the work of women painters and eroticizing their subjects, regardless of how the painters intended the work to be read. For instance, one of the common interpretations of Kahlo’s work is that it demonstrates how much she mourned her inability to have children. Herrera writes, “Many of her paintings express this fascination with procreation, and some directly reflect her despair at not having children. One of the most moving of the latter is ‘Me and My Doll,’ painted in 1937. ” Yet that painting is hardly the image you’d expect from someone desperate for motherhood. It is a self-portrait of Kahlo sitting on a bed next to a lifeless looking child/doll. She is smoking a cigarette and looks bored, and is sitting some distance from the child on the bed–a reflection of, perhaps, her real lack of maternal instincts. Her other images of childbirth and pregnancy are some of the most violent and disturbing ever to grace a canvas. …It’s entirely possible that Kahlo was conflicted, experiencing both longing for motherhood and relief at not having to endure it–a sentiment many women surely recognize. Yet that view would detract from the hagiography. “If [Kahlo's] paintings were looked at closely, she would become a dangerous woman,” says Lindauer, explaining that Kahlo’s paintings actually challenge lots of feminine ideals. If they really took a good look at her art, she adds, “People would be less comfortable buying her fridge magnets.” Read More:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html

---Trotsky was a vigorous man, fifty-seven years old, tall, dashing, and full of energy. According to Jean van Heijenoort, Trotsky's secretary, Frida and Trotsky's interest in one another was soon apparent to many. Frida behaved coquettishly, frequently using the word "love" when speaking to him. She communicated easily with him in English, which had the advantage of excluding his wife, who didn't understand the language. Trotsky slipped letters into books he loaned to Frida, and they held clandestine meetings in Cristina Kahlo's nearby house. By June Natalia Sedova took notice of the situation, and tension began to build. Trotsky and Natalia decided to separate for a while, ...----Read More:http://www.american-buddha.com/lit.fridabrushanguish.3c.htm

The male Surrealists passionately desired woman’s ability to bear children, which is why they desired woman. Indeed. I would argue that much of Surrealism is an attempt to appropriate woman’s power to give birth by every treacherous means possible. Much Surrealist imagery can be understood as the product of a false pregnancy—a strangely aborted product from a female point of view. —Donald Kuspit “‘

Works by women artists such as Frida Kahlo, Louise Bourgeois, and Elizabeth Murray are representations of femininity whose organic forms and stylistic peculiarities owe much to these “strangely aborted” Surrealist products. These characteristics are often described by post-modemist critics as narcissistic and fetishistic, yet these works deal directly with female body experience, sexuality, fruition, barrenness, and the quotidian facts of woman’s life. Read More:http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:3E93UA6ZYOIJ:www.miraschor.com/CV/PDFS/Heresies%252024%25201989003.pdf+frida+kahlo+donald+kuspit&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=ca&client=firefox-a&source=www.google.ca

---Since her rediscovery in the 1970s, one of the few people to openly criticize Kahlo for her politics was her fellow countryman, the late Nobel laureate Octavio Paz. In Essays on Mexican Art, he questions whether someone could be both a great artist and "a despicable cur." In the end, he says they can, but suggests that, because of the way they embraced Stalin, .....Read More:http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2001/0206.mencimer.html image:http://www.american-buddha.com/lit.fridabrushanguish.3c.htm


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