Monday, January 21, 2013

In person Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at the AGO!

One of my favourite photos of Frida and Diego at the AGO exhibit

I was so lucky today - a good friend of mine treated me to the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera AGO show that was closing at end of day today. There was a moderate crush of people at the sold out show and a good line up waiting to get in. 

We finally got and in spoke in excited hushed tones as we went from piece to piece together, waiting for heads to part so we could see the paintings unencumbered. Then it happened, I got stuck on a piece that I just couldn't leave. Much to my surprise it was a lithograph by Diego Rivera and not a painting.

"Zappata" lithograph by Diego Rivera
at the AGO exhibit

I was captured by the fantastic use of value here, the sheer beauty of how the horse is rendered and how well he designed the composition. Your eye goes right to the white horse and then ends up entering around it, the foliage, then your eye gets moved counter-clockwise, from the darkest darks (and area of highest contrast which is the focal point) to viewing the trodden on enemy soldier, rendered in a lighter charcoal value, then left again to his fellow soldiers in a lighter value of gray, then to Zappata himself and with his arm outstretched, to the horse again, which head tilted towards his human companion, sends the viewer back into the painting, via the Zappata figure and so on. This piece as in some of his others, there seems to be an active circular design at work. It makes his images move, seem alive if you will. Beautiful stuff.

Portrait of Natasha Zakolkova by artist Diego Rivera - 1943
oil painting at the AGO exhibit

This was quite an impressive painting colour, design and size wise. It felt more like a commission though rather than a piece done for other reasons. Either way it was impressive. The calla lily is evident in many of Rivera's works and harkens to his fascination with the Aztec era.

But for me, it was Ms. Kahlo's work that riveted me to the spot. It started with this photo of her.

Frida Kahlo photo at the AGO exhibit
She is not afraid of the camera and stands with a certain assuredness in her own experience and comfortable in her own skin. I love the way she meets the camera head on. It's brilliant. Ms. Kahlo, maybe in her early thirties, her hair cropped and growing out stares into the camera fearlessly, cigarette in hand. She knows what she knows and no body is going to take that away from her. THAT is the image that riveted me. I stood there, my eyes, my soul, locked to hers though that photo. Artist to artist, woman to woman, chronic pain endurer, to chronic pain endurer. Her strength, in spite of everything she had been through both physically and emotionally, was absolutely spell binding. 

I was surprised when I came upon a series of three of her sepia ink drawings. They were highly detailed and revealed a very capable artistic hand. I am a fan of sepia ink drawings so even though these were quite busy I still enjoyed them.

"Drawing with War Them" 1946 artist Frida Kahlo
For decades I had looked at her paintings online and in book form but seeing them in person was almost a surreal experience. The first self-portrait I laid eyes on was this one.

Frida Kahlo self portrait, oil, 1933

What is interesting with this one is that it seems that she didn't have quite enough room for the top of her head and had to squish it in, so to speak, to make it fit. Regardless, it's still a lovely painting. Her painting style is more attentive to the medium, if you will, then Rivera's. Maybe it's because he painted so large so often and had a lot of ground to cover, but it seems that she was more attentive to detail then he. 

"Eleonora di Toledo" 42" x 36 1/2" oil painting
artist Frida Kahlo - 1927

This painting was a real treat. I hadn't seen this one before and it's done in a style reminiscent of the art nouveau style that was evident at that time with a 16th century Italy taste to it. Frida supposedly admired Botticelli and Bronzino's work and it plays out here. The model's (her friend Alicia Galant) fair skin literally pops out at you so it is definitely the centre of the work but the little stars actually stand out a bit too, ever so sweetly.

"Dona Rosita Morillo" oil on masonite
24" x 30" (apprx.) artist Frida Kahlo

It's hard to find a good reproduction of this painting online and it's a great reminder of why it's SO important to see an artist's work in person. The original painting was so impressive. It has a regal quality to it and the likeness of subject's face, well, it felt like she was there, looking out at you almost a little unnervingly so. Just an excellent piece and for me, one of my favourite surprises of the show.

"Self Portrait with Monkey" Oil painting
artist Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo with deer fawn.

Frida loved animals as was evident by the many photos and paintings that show her in their company. Monkeys, dogs, parrots, birds, deer (obviously) and more. Life truly bloomed around her.

In stark contrast to this was her own interior landscape of barren suffering that she also poured onto her canvas. One of her most famous paintings of this is "Henry Ford Hospital" done just after losing her baby while with Diego in America, New York I believe.

"Henry Ford Hospital" oil on metal
12 1/2" x 15 1/5" (apprx.) artist Frida Kahlo

It's funny. I have seen this painting immortalized online, on tv and in the movie "Frida" but seeing it in person was astonishing. It's actually quite a small painting and most unassuming until you really look at it and note the subject matter. The narrative behind it, Frida's personal story of sadness and tragedy of having, yet again, another spontaneous abortion. She so wanted children. And it happened in a cold and inhospitable place to her as illustrated by the cold and sparseness of the painting with it's nod to smokestacks, industrialization and mechanization. 

"The Broken Column" oil on masonite
12" x 16" apprx. artist Frida Kahlo

And her famous "The Broken Column" painting was there. Some people have postulated that with the trauma of the initial accident and following multiple operations that Ms. Kahlo suffered Fibromyalgia - that was indicated by the placement of all the nails in her skin and body. It is highly possible and indeed she was incapacitated for months at a time because of pain. Having had five months myself of excruciating and debilitating lower back pain that left me a whimpering huddle on the couch, it gives me a glimpse of what she must have went through. The colours are somber, a demurred olive green barren landscape and subdued skin tones on what is usually depicted in her self-portraits as warm, vibrant and alive. That is what pain does, it drains you, of energy, life and the colour of life itself.

"Without Hope" oil on masonite
11" x 14" apprx. artist Frida Kahlo
Anyone who has lived with ongoing, life long pain and suffering understands this painting. Day turns to night turns to day and it doesn't matter cause you're stuck in bed, recovering again from that which was inflicted upon you and life feels like a burned out landscape and you're left to go over in your mind, over and over what you are left with - continued pain, loss, poverty, isolation, loneliness. Her only solace is literally to express this onto her canvas (note her modified easel lying over top of her). An uncomfortable but moving piece.

One of Ms. Kahlo's corset casts on exhibition at the AGO
And then I saw this, her body cast, a corset one. It was so, small. Frida was quite a petite woman but her spirit is so strong and indomitable that one forgets this fact. It was very touching to see it in person. The one depicted in the photo above was the actual one on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Frida Kahlo with friend and lover photographer Nikolas Muray
in her studio.

I loved seeing the studio shots of her. It's no secret that Frida had several affairs with men and women. Mr. Muray (shown above) also became a close friend. 

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
And perhaps this is one of my favourite images from the AGO show. It's a very dramatic and beautifully shot of the two artists. Their strength, conviction and ultimately, devotion to each other in their art and beliefs, in everything that made up who they were, is one of the world's greatest love stories. I feel so lucky, so privileged, to be given a glimpse into their lives. Much thanks to the AGO for putting together this show and to my friend, Echo, for taking me to it.

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