Saturday, September 30, 2023

Frida : The Painter The Human

 You only need to say one word. Frida.

The name can evoke many different feelings within. She was known as a revolutionist creating her own way with her own voice. Powerful yet very vulnerable. Complex at the same being clear and to the point. She was one of the first to place her deep emotions on the canvas for everyone to see. She was the first to wear her heritage(s) creating perhaps the first "brand" way before brand was even a thing.

For me personally and artistically, it was a journey of healing. A journey of defining and using my voice. The process of learning from her what it was to stand up for yourself and have that deep faith within.

And if you believe in karma (as in personal life work throughs-not as get even) then she has done this for me. I knew it as soon as I started her- the end of a life long "karmic" journey. All it was becoming the powerful yet vulnerable person that I always was and owning it.

Frida: The Study
I started with a workshop "why do I need feet when I have wings" a full bust clay sculpt...and finally this one of a kind. 

My studies took me years and years to prepare for each piece. I know Frida least where my intensive research took me was to written words- books and articles and visual- film of her and documentaries. If I was to create a legend, I better know and understand my subject as best as I can. I am still studying.

As I came to create this one of kind piece, I realized that she had taken me on a journey of change and discovery of my own being through these intensive studies of her life and how she expressed herself.

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird, 1940
Frida: Creating
So how do you bring "the Frida" and your own art and beliefs together?

I always start with the head. I initially was going to do a "replication" of her own face and head...but was not happy with it. I am not a portrait artist...I am a symbolic artist.

So I did my own sculpt. Now I was on the path on a mutual creation...voices mingled.
Air dry clay in two sections.

Dyed silk fabric to deeper tone than I normally work in and sewed her body. 
Head overlay with silk and hand painted. Interior of head is hollow for jointing.

I love the texture of this weave of silk. It was woven to have the effect of linen.

Signature eyebrows
Who would she be...without?
She likened her brows to a bird's wing above her eyes.

Frida: Butterflies and Broken Column
I felt it most necessary to add her injuries of her life debilitating accident at age 18...and how she interpreted them.
It was her was her innermost self.
image credit: Charcoal and pencil on paper, 11 ⅜ x 8 ¼ in. (29 x 21 cm). Museo Frida Kahlo

Butterfly Symbolism: Resurrection - Rebirth
I brought in the image of painterly butterflies in 11 areas of her leg. She did walk again and her pain was focused into her painting.

Gold dusting
As Frida laid there after her horrific accident, most of her clothing torn from her as a metal pole harpooned her body, many broken bones...a cloud of gold dust settled over her body from a fellow passenger that was a painter...I included this gold dust (gently) over her body.
drying in the sun

Symbolism : Broken Column + Stitches
Frida carried the pain of her broken spine with her for most of her life. I felt that it shaped and at times directed her life. She didn’t just paint portraits depicting her traumas; she truly showed all the deep emotions of her life through each stroke from her brush.

For this part of her creation, I felt it necessary to honor her voice. I placed (her) broken column on her back and hand stitch 32 threads for each of her surgeries.

Frida was of European (German her father) and Mexican (her mother) heritage known as a mestiza- of mixed race, especially one having indigenous and Spanish descent. You can find that mix evident in her attire. 
There is much written about this painting "Two Fridas", focusing in on the hearts of both.
What I would like to point out is the dress. The one of the left of European and the right of Tehuana.

In this painting, the two Fridas are holding hands. They both have visible hearts and the heart of the traditional Frida is cut and torn open. The main artery, which comes from the torn heart down to the right hand of the traditional Frida, is cut off by the surgical pincers held in the lap of the traditional Frida. The blood keeps dripping on her white dress and she is in danger of bleeding to death. The stormy sky filled with agitated clouds may reflect Frida's inner turmoil.

The Two Fridas, 1939 by Frida Kahlo
All of this Frida's garments are removable.
Frida: Undergarments
I decided to mix her undergarments bringing in both cultures of European with the vintage lace pantaloons and then the traditional Tehuana white pleated holán (ruffle).

Vintage lace from England. Silk tie.
Hand pleated holán
Cotton eyelet from England.
3 meters created 27 inches of pleating.
Frida spent so much time with herself in bedrest...she expressed her emotions by painting many of her corsets.
Frida's personal painted corset
 depicting her broken column
I choose this to one to replicate. In most of my work I do not replicate- I gather inspiration but felt this was such an important part of her voice as a person and artist.

Pantaloons and replicated corset

Corset and underskirt with holán ruffle.

Frida's Huipil (top) 
I designed her huipil in a traditional style and chose to use a vintage piece of this vintage cotton. I thought it was perfect to bring in the European flavor. It is lined with a piece of flowered cotton.

Frida's Over skirt
This is where the lap-over came in with my own interpretation. We know Frida to be a painter that broke all the rules. In keeping with that train of thought, I wanted to honor and celebrate painting. 

Traditional Tehuana embroidery on a skirt would look like this:

I love the geometric borders and kept those and also expanded to bring in her hummingbirds along the top and again the blue butterflies along the bottom.

You can see both in the painting of Frida's Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird.

Hummingbirds (in Mexico) symbolize love. Although this hummingbird (with the necklace of thorns) was after Diego and her divorced (only later to remarry). Love was important to Frida. 
Diego and Frida in San Francisco

The butterflies are watercolor. Each were printed, applied, and topstitch embroidered.

The Flowers
The flowers are all of a printed on fabric painterly design to, again, paying tribute to painting. 
All were applied and topstitched in a free motion embroidery.

The lining of the skirt was done in a polka dot which was a print used during Frida's time.

image from Silk Portrait in a Velvet Dress:
Frida's personal skirt.

Because Frida broke the rules, so these flowers are not neatly placed within the borders, they expand beyond the borders...with daisies (which is my favorite flower).

Frida: Boots 
Frida was six when polio led to the first of her disabilities.

When she was six, she caught the virus which caused her right leg to become thinner and shorter than her left. Later in life, that why Frida became well known for wearing long colourful skirts– something she started wearing to hide her leg.

I felt this another important part of Frida that needed to be included, a shorter right leg than left.

To compensate she had shoes and boots designed with a right foot lift.
Frida's personal silk boots.

Frida was intrigued and loved the Chinese attire and embroideries. She held many things in her collection of wearables, including skirts, tops, ponchos, purses, pajamas, and footwear.

I choose these boots as my inspiration. Magenta was Frida's favorite color and wanted to include that in this piece.

The right heel lift...

Chinese silk brocade with yellow cotton lining. Silk laces and a Chinese lucky coin.

Frida Headdress and Necklace
While she expressed her interior emotions and pain in her paintings, she externally displayed her heritage in a most opulent manner to bring attention to her outer self not her internal pain. As she aged and her pain increased so did her dress with more flowers and jewelry.

Frida is most well known for the wearing of flowers in her hair...and she loved her native rustic jade.
Her favorite jewelry was gold.
I decided on this Chinese headdress as my crowning glory of this Frida.
Frida's persona headdress
Hand-dyed papers with 
vintage metal, stamens, and netting leaves.
A six-step process to dye the flowers!

Necklace of frosted glass beads

Frida: Overall

My take away?
After my many years of immersive study while creating a workshop and one of kind pieces, what could be my take away?

As I sit here and close my eyes to find that message, taking in a breath and another...what comes to me is...Strength in who you are and live it to your most fullest...

Yes, we will all have moments of trial and happiness, but to find be it. We may not be everyone's cup of tea but we weren't sent here to this Earth to be that. We were sent here to be us.

Please reach out with any questions or comments.

Want more art? Please visit my website:

Further reading:

Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo
by Hayden Herrera
(intense and rich- will take you time to read)

*Self Portrait in a Velvet Dress: Frida's Wardrobe: Fashion From The Museo Frida Kahlo Hardcover – June 18, 2008
Carlos Phillips Olmedo (Author), Denise Rosenzweig (Author), Magdalena Rosenzweig (Author), Teresa del Conde (Author), Marta Turok (Author), Graciela Iturbide (Photographer), Pablo Aguinaco (Photographer),
(* my most favorite- look around for this book pricing varies greatly! It is the discovery of Frida's wardrobe after being locked away for 50 years and the restoration.)
(a fun way to jump into the way Frida lived through food)

What Would Frida Do?: A Guide to Living Boldly
by Arianna Davis
(sweet - easy to read- some facts are not correct but a nice take on thinking as Frida.)

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait
by Carlos Fuentes
(The front section is in Spanish with drawings- the back section is English translation. I have mixed feeling about this book, I feel it is deeply personal and while it gave me much insight, I believe it should be approach with honor and respect of her humanness.)

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