Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from The Gelman Collection / 6 August 2011
The three galleries showing Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s work were positively humming as I got my first taste of the work. The exhibition began with Rivera's ‘Ultima Hora - Last Hour’. Painted in 1911 in Paris it stood alone as an example of his early experiments with cubism in a room containing his portraiture and figurative painting.
In relation to a lithograph of Kahlo nude, she says of Rivera: “He possesses extraordinarily good taste. He admires and appreciates everything that contains beauty when it vibrates in a woman or in a mountain... " This statement seems to sum up the turbulence, mixed with humour and affection in their relationship.
Rivera’s lilies represent a multitude of metaphor that appeal to me. In the social Mexican scene of ‘Calla Lily Vendors’, the flowers are central to the painting, mediating between the women sellers in the foreground and a tradesman in the background, who appeared simply as a hat buried in the lilies. There is an implied spiritual dimension in the way the vendors offer the lilies whilst holding on to the basket. In the portrait of patron, Natasha Zakolkova, lilies mirror the sensuality expressed in her elongated body. Both the woman and lilies are painted in similar hues of white. Â Kahlo’s artwork resonates emotionally, artistically and spiritually. This is particularly because of the pride she demonstrates, in the experience of being a disabled artist and of being of multi-heritage (German, Mexican, Spanish, Indian). As someone of mixed heritage also, I identify with the nuances in how she expresses this experience in her painting. Â Frida declined an invitation to become part of the surrealist movement because of the way her style mixed European and Mexican influences, saying: “They are so damn intellectual and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore. I rather sit on the floor of the market, than to have anything to do with any of these artists”. Kahlo’s “Self Portrait with Braid” makes reference to her Mexican and Indian roots in her elaborate hairstyle and stone necklace. This is further enhanced by ‘The Love Embrace’ that depicts her as a Madonna-like figure embraced by the universe and Mexican/Indian mother statue. Her symbols demonstrate a unity of different cultures and belief that not only inform, but enrich each other.
Frida’s 'Self-portrait with Monkeys' is full of tenderness in which they surround and embrace her. Their puzzled faces seeking protection and nurture. Frida was unable to bear children and portrait seems to imply her deep desire. Frida kept spider monkeys as pets, amongst others, to keep her company.
Her disabled self is implied in several self-portraits on show here. Kahlo depicts herself from the shoulders up, straight backed and regal. Her paintings assert a presence that is informed by her culture, personal politics and spirituality. Kahlo’s direct and implied visual language speaks of her pride, suffering and resilience.
The ‘Tehuana or Diego in My Thoughts’ dominates as soon as you enter the doorway to the third gallery. I was pulled in to its delicacy on approaching. The traditional lace headdress surrounding her face like an aura, makes her look iconic with Rivera as her third eye. The fine lace extends further into fine white threads that are entangled with darker strands connecting with the earth. The painting: ‘The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth’ is shown alongside, again making a reference to spirituality, her multi heritage culture and her love for Rivera.
This exhibition speaks deeply about Diego and Kahlo’s relationship. The work demonstrates a spiritual affiliation with their culture, and the way they cultivated, and promoted that love, bound up with their artistic, political and social life.
Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera: Masterpieces from The Gelman Collection â€¨is on show at Pallant House Gallery, Chichester until 2 October 2011
Keywords: painting,visual arts