Monday, January 28, 2013

2013 Reading Goal: Frida Kahlo 1907-1954 Pain and Passion

My latest book on my 2013 reading challenge is Andrea Kettenmann's book on Frida Kahlo.

Rating: 4 stars
Frida Kahlo: 1907-1954 Pain and Passion
Image from Goodreads
For my 2013 challenge, I've been thinking a lot about self-portraits...what they mean and why they are important. I figured it would help if I started looking at female artists who delved into the realm of self-portraits. When I started brainstorming artists, Frida Kahlo was at the top of my list. I really didn't know too much about her before this book so I was happy to find a good introduction to her life and her work.

And what a life she lead! I had no idea about all of the medical problems that surrounded her life. The whole reason why she started painting in the first place was because she was cooped up in bed recovering from surgery.  They hooked up this canopy with mirrors on it so she could see herself. She said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best." She often had to wear a steel corset to help support her back and she was almost always in constant pain. She had dozens of surgeries on her back and on her leg which were themes that often arose in her work.
Kettenmann did a nice job throughout the book on showing insights on her paintings. When you first look at her self -portraits, they often can look emotionless...mask like. Kettermann writes "Frida Kahlo's self portraits helped her to shape an idea of her own person; by creating herself anew in art as in life, she could find her way to an identity. This may explain why her self-portraits differ in only relatively small respects."

When she lost several pregnancies, she painted some gruesome paintings that show just how sad she was...even though her face stayed pretty constant. Every now and then she would paint tears going down her face. After one surgery on her back, she was discouraged by the lack of progress that was made so she painted her head on a deer's body. She then painted arrows all over the deer to show what she was feeling. It was amazing how much her inner turmoil was captured in her paintings--even with her wearing her "mask" in most paintings.

I was really surprised at the subject matter that she took on. Her miscarriages, death, her sexuality, her pain were all themes that arose in her work. Diego Rivera said about Frida, "She [is] the first woman in the history of art to treat, with absolute and uncompromising honesty, one might even say with impassive cruelty, those general and specific themes which exclusively affect women."She really did not shy away from what she was feeling and going through.

Towards the end of her life she had to have her leg amputated which lead to severe depression. She ended up dying young (in her 50s) because of pneumonia but the book hinted at suicide since her last entry in her diary seemed much like a good bye. It surprised me that once again, a talented female artist was at least somewhat tied to the idea of suicide.

Fourth lesson of the year: Self-portraits are important in the role of self discovery. Look at what is going on in my inner life...and reflect that in my self-portraits. I am the subject that I know paint! 


As I mentioned in my 2013 goal, I’m reading mostly women lit that focuses on women authors or complicated, strong female characters this year. Here is the list of my previous book reviews that I've done on this journey:

First: Madame Bovary
Second: Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress
Third: Patron Saint of Liars 
Fourth: Bird by Bird

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