SAN FRANCISCO, CA.- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is holding a major exhibit of Frida Kahlos work. Ordinarily Im not interested in writing about such a famous and much written about artist, but, in Fridas case I have to make an exception. Her show at the SFMOMA is in a league of its own. There are 50 paintings in all in the exhibit and in a body they pack quite a punch. I have seen isolated paintings of Kahlos work over the years and have never been especially moved until this exhibit. Being a painter myself and an abstract one at that I tended to label Frida as a surrealist painter. A little short sighted on my part. Frieda says, they thought I was a surrealist but I wasnt. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality. After seeing so many major works of this artist under one roof, putting her in a labeled box wont do. There is a kind of duality in great work and in her case when the paintings are brutal and raw there is also a delicacy and sweetness; the yin and yang in this thing called art seems to leave us more room for thought and emotion . Frida had the ability to channel her suffering through her work, maybe it made her physical and emotional pain more bearable, distancing herself from it.
The first paintings encountered when entering the exhibit are early portraits done while she was living in San Francisco between 1930-31. In the latter part of the exhibit and of her life her work becomes more complex; work of a more personal nature mixed with her increasingly intense political views. Kahlo merged her native Mexicos iconography and revolutionary history sometimes with metaphysics; an interesting blend.
The exhibit spans from the beginning of her career in 1926 to her death in 1954. Some of the more notable paintings in the exhibit are:
The Frame, 1937-38, an especially luscious painting with only Fridas face framed by rose-pink flowers with parrots or cockatoos on either side of her.
The Broken Column, 1944, is a disturbing painting depicting a period of 5 months when she was forced to wear a steel orthopedic corset to hold up her spine which she described as punishment. It conjures up Saint Sebastien pierced by arrows only in Fridas case she is pierced by nails and this ramrod column.
Henry Ford Hospital, done in 1932, depicts herself seeming very small in an oversized hospital bed, laying in a pool of blood after suffering a miscarriage . Again, done in exquisite pastels giving the harshness of the subject matter all the more impact.
The Love Embrace of the Universe the Earth (Mexico), Diego and Me and Senor Xolotl, 1949. A late work that is a testament to her love for Diego and her native roots. She is cradling the child Diego as the earth is held in an embrace by the universe. In spite of an emotionless face she is weeping, precariously positioned on a mountain top. The multiple entwinements in the painting are symbolic of Diego and her resolution to stay together.
The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, 1939, is a harsh painting made all the more so when it is presented in delicate light blue for sky and white clouds . Frida has painted the frame almost to depict an uncontainable, bigger than life image. The subject matter being that of the actress Dorothy Hale jumping to her death from a very tall building.
Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940, is a painting showing Friedas love for nature . A self-portrait where she is flanked by a chimp and what seems to be a jaguar. Around her neck is a necklace of thorns emitting delicate trickles of blood reminiscent of Jesuss crown of thorns; she is looking straight ahead, no emotion, a kind of resignation.
The Two Fridas, 1939, is especially moving in its straightforward presentation of Frida sitting side by side with herself holding her own hand. Again, the lack of emotion strengthening the impact of the image. The painting depicts the failure of her marriage to Diego Rivera and Fridas isolation.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907 in Coyoacan , Mexico City. She met Diego Rivera in 1928 and married him in 1929. Even with exhibits in New York in the 30s arranged by her friend the painter Andre Breton, Frida didnt see much real recognition for her work until 1970 due to Diegos immense fame. She was plagued by ill health during her lifetime but painted throughout her suffering and hardship as if to chronicle it. Frida states , I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to. Frida died at the early age of 47, having painted some 66 self-portraits and around 80 other paintings of friends and still life.
Never before seen photographs owned by Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are included in the exhibit.
The exhibit runs from June 14th through September 28th, at San Francisco Museum of Art in San Francisco, Ca.