Frida Kahlo: New Book Highlights Lesser-Known Works | Arts | DW


In 1951, Mexican artist Frida Kahlo wrote in her diary: “I haven’t been well for a year. Seven operations on the spine. Dr Farill saved me. He gave me back the joy of living. wheelchair and I don’t know how soon I will be able to walk again… But I want to live, I have already started the little picture that I am going to give to Dr Farill and I am doing it for him with the greatest affection. ”

This “little painting” is the image you see above. It would also be the last self-portrait painted by Kahlo to which she added her signature.

But who was this Doctor Farill? Why is Kahlo dressed the way she is? What does Catholicism have to do with this palette on his knees? Wait, is it a palette or a heart?

Have these questions made you take a closer look?

A pencil sketch of Kahlo that moves away from the lush colors usually attributed to him

Shedding light on Frida’s lesser-known works

The answers lie in an expansive book on his works titled, Frida Kahlo: The complete paintings, posted by Taschen.

Triggered by the lack of a complete art history on Kahlo’s work, Mexican art historian Luis-Martin Lozano and his co-authors Andrea Kettenmann and Marina Vazquez Ramos embarked on this ambitious project to give people a better understanding of Kahlo, the artist.

“First of all, who was she as an artist? What did she think of her own work? What did she want to accomplish as an artist? And what do these paintings mean in themselves? Lozano spoke about the purpose of his book in an interview with the BBC.

He added that some of his works had “surprisingly” never been written. “Never, not a single sentence! Others were either mis-titled or dated. “It’s a mess when it comes to art history,” Lozano said.

His book is a study of each of Kahlo’s 152 paintings made between 1924 and 1954, identified by their origins and the history of their exhibitions. Paintings that have been destroyed or whose current location is unknown are only identified by photographs.

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings includes unseen or overlooked works by the artist (Credit: Taschen)

Beyond his renowned portraits

Mention Frida Kahlo, and there’s a good chance her striking self-portraits will spring to mind first: the one in which she gazes unflinchingly at the viewer, dressed in traditional Mexican clothing and eye-catching accessories, worn, ornate braided hair. of flowers, his trademark. unibrow and a hint of mustache going against conventional beauty ideals.

Forming a third of all of his works, these self-portraits – sometimes his unibrow alone is enough – have long been money spinners, adorning matching paraphernalia ranging from flowerpots and yoga cushions to yes, even masks. facial features, as collectibles for Frida fans.

Much has also been documented about the life-changing accident for Kahlo at the age of 18, which saw her bedridden, bored and turning to art to free herself from her troubles. emotions. his difficult relationship with fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera which involved infidelities on both sides and in his case, with both sexes; her grief at motherhood escaping her; his passion for flora and fauna; and his inimitable style influenced by his Mexican heritage and fierce individuality.

Labeled and adopted in turn as a style / feminist / LGBT / cult icon, Kahlo’s story-rich life ironically tended to distract attention from her journey as an artist and the story behind her art, according to Lozano. People have either seen his paintings through the prism of his high-profile private life, or are overwhelmingly drawn to his better-known works.

Vivid painting by Frida Kahlo depicting a white dove, an assortment of fruits and a Mexican flag

Kahlo dedicated and gave this still life to her surgeon, Dr. Juan Farill whom she respected very much.

More than the eye can discern

Totaling 624 pages, this tome is a revelation not only for fans but also for the uninitiated.

Readers may be surprised by many of his lesser-known or overlooked works “which may not be associated with Kahlo,” in Lozano’s words. These include pencil sketches like Show scar (1938), still lifes like Live life (1953), surrealist pieces like What the water gave me (1938-1939) and his first portraits which differ in style and interpretation from his famous later and more lush works.

Painting by Frida Kahlo titled What Water Gave Me

“What Water Gave Me” suggests that self-analysis begins in the womb and is nourished by memories of life

However, the heart of this book is the 100+ page catalog, where Lozano and his colleagues painstakingly researched the history and context, and sometimes even the proprietary timelines of Kahlo’s works.

Interviews, newspaper articles, photographs, notes, diary pages, and personal letters from Kahlo’s own handwriting flesh out the stories surrounding his plays.

Unvarnished stories

What stands out are stories that sometimes reveal the mundane in the life of an artist. For example, that painting Dog Ixcuhintli with me (Self-portrait with dog Xoloitzcuintli) which she painted around 1938, had been painted on a previous painting.

Collecting other circumstances from her life at the time, historians believe she reused the canvas as the money may have been tight and she may have been pressed for time to deliver pieces for an exhibition .

Painting of Frida Kahlo sitting and dressed in dark clothes with a small dog next to her

X-ray photograph of ‘Ixcuhintli Dog with Me (Autoportrait with Xoloitzcuintli Dog)’ reveals a previously painted piece below

Consider the other coin she bequeathed to her beloved orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Juan Farill, titled Still Life. On the little Mexican flag pierced in the watermelon, she had written: “Long live life and Dr. Juan Farill.”

Older photos of the play reveal that she originally wrote “Juanito” – a more informal way of addressing people in Spanish. However, she may have had doubts about being too familiar with a man she respected a lot, and therefore painted over it, resulting in a slightly stained dedication.

In addition, the wealth of information on religious and cultural symbolism in its choice of colors, clothing, subject positions, fruits, animals, draws attention to the smallest details, adding additional layers to the appreciation of his art.

Overall, the book highlights the journey of an art icon, who was at the human basis and who sublimely captured her humanity on the canvas.


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