lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 21 07:28:11 MDT 2003
Does Frida nail Kahlo's life—or her art?
By Carol Kino, slate.com
But here's what's really wrong with this picture: We hardly ever see
Frida painting. In some early scenes, when she's recovering from the
accident, she decorates her body cast with butterflies, as though it
were a chrysalis—a terrific image, even though I don't believe this
actually happened until much later in Kahlo's life. We see her parents
affixing a specially designed easel to her sickbed, at which point she
starts to paint. Yet after her recovery, though we see plenty about her
pursuit of sex, drinking, and her passion for Diego, we learn nothing
about how she made her work.
Did Frida also paint when she was feeling fit? When someone commissioned
a portrait, did she have her subject over to the studio to pose? When
the couple traveled abroad for Diego's commissions and shows, did she
keep on making work, too? Though the answer to all these questions is
yes, Taymor gives few clues. "Patch me up so I can paint," Frida tells
her doctor just before he says it's time to amputate her toes. But for
the most part, we only see her working when she's trapped in a cast or
some other gruesome medical apparatus.
Frustratingly, Taymor does convey a strong sense of Diego as an artist,
both in terms of his working methods (he used a crew and scaffolding)
and his career (he was a sucker for parties and the limelight). So how
about just a single shot of Frida's studio, a close-up of her paints and
brushes, or the metal panels she used in place of canvas? (She adopted
this suggestion of Diego's to intensify the relationship between her
work and the Mexican retablo—folk art paintings on tin that often depict
the saints or commemorate some holy intervention in a mortal crisis.)
Even more important, what did Kahlo's finished paintings actually look
like? We see plenty of close-ups of those badly painted imaginative
renderings, but we only ever catch brief glimpses of the real stuff.
Similarly, the film unintentionally demeans Kahlo by depicting her as a
charming naif, rather than a savvy professional. OK, so she often wore
folkloric Tehuana clothes and mimicked folk-art techniques, the better
to express her solidarity with working-class Mexicans. But she herself
was born bourgeois and was a creature of the international art world
besides. Her paintings are far more sophisticated than they initially
seem and, even though she downplayed her ambition, she obviously took
her work extremely seriously. Furthermore, her romantic partners weren't
limited to Leon Trotsky and a procession of sexy women, as the film
suggests. Until her physical condition rendered heterosexual intercourse
problematic, she also enjoyed liaisons with many renowned male art world
figures, including the sculptor Isamu Noguchi and the Surrealist dealer
Julien Levy, who gave her a solo debut at his gallery in New York.
The European Surrealists, who discovered Kahlo when some of them
decamped for Mexico during World War II, hardly turn up at all. André
Breton, the movement's founder, makes but a cameo appearance in the
film, urging her in a hokey French accent to show her work in Paris.
Kahlo didn't consider herself a Surrealist: "I never painted dreams,"
she is supposed to have said. "I painted my own reality." Yet the
reality is that her association with the group gave her career a major
boost. She participated in their 1940 exhibition in Mexico City and
today, her work graces the covers of countless books on the movement.
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