Sunday with Frida

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The Good Man and I had a chance to be up in San Francisco this weekend. The occasion was a visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Since June they have had an exhibition of Frida Kahlo‘s art.

I have been a fan of Frida for a while now. Her work so heavily influences any female artist, especially anyone interested in Latino art, and so for me, it was vital I attend this show.

I came in, as we all do, with one set of expectations, that I’m not sure for were met.

But I’ll be thinking about this exhibition for a while.

While at the library the day before we went to the show, I saw a book on the “new fiction” shelf called “Frida’s Bed.” It is one author’s fictional account of Frida’s last thoughts before she died.

So that’s also coloring my view, I suppose.

About the exhibit, however… First and foremost, it was CROWDED. We’re into the waning weeks of the show and I think I’d hoped it wouldn’t be so packed, but I was wrong.

At more than fifty years after her death, Frida is as popular as ever. Moreso, it would seem.

The people were stacked up to see her work, which was both heartening and annoying.

Heartening because many young women were there, and seeing that it’s ok to express your pain, your rage, your upset is important. It doesn’t make you less of a woman. Frida gave good pain, I’ll say that. Sometimes it’s hard to look at her work, it’s emotional and physical pain is so plainly laid OUT there. I admire that, to be honest.

The show was equally annoying because it was damn near impossible to spend any time with the paintings. The queues were insane, and the best you could do was a Chevy Chase “Vacation” style nod at the Grand Canyon, then move on.

This frustrated the heck out of me, because what’s fascinating about Frida’s paintings isn’t what’s apparently obvious, it’s what she’s hidden in the small spaces.

She has secret jokes, or darker images, that she places in her work. Sort of passive aggressive, actually. Both TGM and I had trouble spending the time we needed with each piece, instead shuttled through quickly as the crowd surged behind us.

Many of the paintings were much smaller than I’d imagined them to be. Then again, the famous “Two Fridas” was MUCH larger than I expected, taking up most of one wall.

I took all of it in, thinking I would come out massively inspired to go and paint and release my inner demons. Instead, the story told in all those frames reminded me of a difficult time in my life and a difficult relationship. To say I find parallels between the troubled relationship between Frida and Diego Rivera is to undersell it a bit, but that’s close enough for explanation’s sake, I suppose.

And being far less brave than Frida, I’m unwilling to dissect it here, publicly.

That said, as we came to the end of the exhibit, I ended up in a bit of a dark mood. That was from the remembering. Ultimately, I was also happier and held the hand of TGM a bit tighter. He is a life raft, a parachute, water wings and all other really good metaphors I can’t think of right now for someone who rescued me from the abyss, and gave my life meaning again.

With that in mind, I brought up the question to TGM over lunch…does “art” always have to be sad?

Can I paint a canvas that expresses my joy, the peace in my life now, the exquisite love I have and still be taken seriously as an artist?

I’ve never bought into the fact that misery was a pre-requisite.

Maybe art really is what you say it is…

Anyhow, one way or another, Frida’s work moved me greatly. It will be with me for a long time.

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  • Meredith

    (reposting due to typo first time around. :))
    Hi! Avelino linked me to your blog, and I just wanted to tell you that I love this entry. I was able to make it to the Mexican Modern exhibit in Santa Fe a couple years ago, which featured paintings by both Diego and Frida, and I felt much the same way. Having spent so much time reading about Frida and looking at her work in books and on the internet, I was thrilled to go to the exhibit, but what I got was not what I expected. Fortunately, I did get plenty of time to look at the painting.

    To my real point. You said: “With that in mind, I brought up the question to TGM over lunch…does “art” always have to be sad? Can I paint a canvas that expresses my joy, the peace in my life now, the exquisite love I have and still be taken seriously as an artist? I’ve never bought into the fact that misery was a pre-requisite.”

    I don’t think that misery is a pre-requisite. I think life is, and pain–as much as joy–often is a part of having truly lived your life. I love the act of making art, creating something new or altering something old, and for me, it is largely an act of joy.

    Anyway, I’ve rambled on enough, just wanted to share my thoughts and say hello!

  • Karen Fayeth

    Hi Meredith! I read your blog too! And am digging the self-portrait a day…

    I wasn’t sure when I posted this that anyone would get my ramblings. Glad you did.

    Thanks for your thoughts on creating. For me, too, I feel SO happy when creating. It’s fulfilling.

    Anyhow, thanks for the thoughts!!

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