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Posts tagged ‘Frida Kahlo’

Paris | Art tour 2013 – Kahlo and Rivera

I would like to start off my little Paris art series with a moan about London. For all the great events which take place in the city, its exhibitions tend to pale into insignificance when compared with Paris. Take the exhibitions that are on at the moment. At the Royal Academy, the grand galleries of the Burlington Palace are given over to an exhibition surveying the art history of Australia. Well we all know that Australia has no art history, and this exhibition demonstrates as much. Then there’s Tate Modern’s new retrospective on Paul Klee which presents room after room of samey small little Bauhaus explorations – and leaves the visitor as flat as the image so meticulously conceived by Klee on paper. And let us not forget the Royal Academy’s other homage to a nation’s art – its recent Mexico show, whose only inclusion of perhaps the greatest artist ever to come out of Mexico, Frida Kahlo, was a painting so small (and I mean ridiculously small) that you had to squint to see it.

Rivera's cubist period

Rivera’s cubist period

None of this in Paris, whose exhibitions present such a comprehensive survey of the particular artist at hand that you feel not only completely enriched at the end of the show, but also pretty exhausted too. And Paris doesn’t just have one blockbuster exhibition a year – no no, it holds a good three or four massive artistic events each season, hence why I feel the insuperable need to visit the city each year.

Really marking Paris out as the superior of its cross-channel neighbour this year is the Musée de l’Orangerie’s significant survey of the works of one Frida Kahlo, and her equally inspired artist husband, Diego Rivera. Entitled Art in Fusion, it explores what has to be one of the greatest married (and divorced, and then remarried) painterly partnerships of modern art history, with many of the most substantial of each artist’s oeuvres on exhibition, and not a tiny painting in sight.

The couple together

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I have always adored the work of Frida Kahlo, resonating so easily with her emotionally raw artistic expression right from the time I first saw her work (ironically in London – those were the good days). For me, Kahlo’s paintings will always trump those of her hubbie’s, which are altogether more political for my taste. Either that or they are too superficial – such as paintings of children tying up lillies or portraits of Mexican natives. His works are altogether too easy to interpret at face value, while faced with a Kahlo masterpiece, you are kept guessing about all of the multi-layered complex meaning with which she imbues her works.

As ever, my favourite of her paintings are those which deal the most viscerally with her experiences of personal trauma – both the bus accident which crippled her for life, and the series of miscarriages which resulted, as well as her painful experience of Rivera’s relentless infidelity. This may make me morose, even morbid in my preferences, but then it was Frida’s works which first inspired me to commit my own life-changing accident to canvas.

Frida’s visceral pain-filled works

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At the risk of being unfair to Rivera, of the canvases on show, a few stand out. I particularly enjoyed his cubist period when, as a young man, he found himself influenced by the early advent of this movement in 1900s Paris. However for the most part, it is Rivera’s murals which are his staggering life’s masterpieces, and sadly, despite some attempt at reproduction in the exhibition, these will require a trip to Mexico to be enjoyed to the full.

Rivera’s murals

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That said, this show, which is a unique opportunity to see both the works of husband and wife displayed alongside each other, is an indisputably unmissable opportunity to see the artistic fusion which these two icons of Mexican art produced during their years together. And, being as it is in the Orangerie, if you find the vitality of colour and the depth of emotional expression a little too much to muster, there’s always Monet’s ultimately calming waterlillies to soothe you upstairs.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera | Art in Fusion is on at the Orangerie until 13 January 2013. If you want to avoid the vast queues which characterise all of the Paris exhibitions, I recommend buying tickets in advance.

Wellcome Death: A Self-Portrait

When one of my favourite friends, fellow blogger Celia, told me that she was going to spend her honeymoon in Mexico during “Dia de los Muertos” I got almost as excited as if I were going myself. Ever since developing an early obsession with the art of Frida Kahlo, and in turn the film Frida starring Salma Hayek, I have been fascinated by the Mexican celebration of the dead, in which they make and paint brightly coloured papier mache skulls, masks and skeletons, often adorned with hearts and flowers and all number of patterns, and parade them out in the streets. I even painted a Muertos skull in my recent painting of the city of Salamanca in Spain (below). Having never been to Mexico, I half-heartedly asked Celia to bring be back a “Muertos doll” never actually expecting that on her honeymoon, she would give me a second thought.

Salamanca (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas, 105 cm x 90 cm)

Salamanca (2012 © Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, oil on canvas, 105 cm x 90 cm)

DSC08541But last week, amazing as she is, and freshly returned from the tropics of that South American paradise, she presented to me what must be the ultimate in double whammy presents – a Frida Kahlo doll with a Muertos skeleton face (pictured)! The doll is frankly amazing, combining all the fun and spirit of Kahlo’s works, including the occasional morbidity which creeps into her often pain-expressing paintings. No sooner had I lovingly placed said doll alongside my Frida Kahlo art catalogue on my book shelves (from the Tate Modern expo some years back), I then heard about another exhibition which has recently hit the streets of London – not of Kahlo, but of Death.

My Frida doll!

My Frida doll!

I know what you’re thinking, death, as the subject of an exhibition? Isn’t that likely to be morbid, or heartwrenching, or just plain scary? Well if you’re thinking those things, you probably don’t know the Wellcome Collection on Euston Road in London, a superb gallery adjunct of the Wellcome Trust, who regularly organises fascinating exhibitions of art and curiosities with a decidedly medical theme. The latest exhibition explores the theme of death and our preoccupation both with death, and combating death, in society.

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The exhibition comprises the vast and varied collection of Richard Harris, a former antique print dealer from Chicago and explores the subject in a brilliantly diverse array of mediums, themes and expressions. Upon entering the gallery, we were met by Jodie Carey’s 2009 work, In the Eyes of Others (2009), a giant chandelier made entirely of bones. Sadly, the bones were not real bones, but rather plastic reproductions, and therefore this did not have quite the same effect as a chapel I once visited in Rome, the Capuchin Crypt, made entirely from human bones (very morbid, but unusually architecturally beautiful). However, it set us up for a show which ranged from the oldest of 15th century art, to ambitious contemporary pieces.

In the Eyes of Others by Jodie Carey (2009)

In the Eyes of Others by Jodie Carey (2009)

The Capuchin Crypt, Rome

The Capuchin Crypt, Rome

The first room explored the theme, Contemplating Death, comprising examples from throughout history of memento mori (Latin for “remember you will die”), the well-advised reminder to us all that we should seize the day because all of us, inevitably, will be dead one day. This ranged from the classically painted Vanitas still life from 16th century Belgium, the skull sat amongst the clutter of Saint Jerome’s cell by Dürer.

Vanitas still life

Vanitas still life

Up next was the Dance of Death, a room which focused on the universal certainty of death, regardless of status in life. This included many a depiction of the Danse Macabre, in which feverish revelry united humans with skeletons, works intended to dissuade people from self-indulgence and vanity in life. I loved the beautiful, almost introspective solace of the dead skeleton sat upon a table in June Leaf’s sculpture, Gentleman on Green Table (1999-2000), as well as the Mondongo Collective’s The Skull Series, in which a huge sculpted scull made from plasticine was, upon closer inspection, a detailed exploration of the influence of the US and Europe upon the world.

June Leaf, Gentleman on Green Table

June Leaf, Gentleman on Green Table

 

Mondongo Collective, The Skull Series. Number eight from a series of 12. Plasticine

Mondongo Collective, The Skull Series. Number eight from a series of 12. Plasticine

For me, the third room, which explored the representation of death in its most violent form, was by far the most powerful and engaging works of the lot. Featuring some examples of the series The Disasters of War (Los Desastres de la Guerra) by Francisco Goya, this room gave us confrontational and often hard-to-view representations of war and death agony. Goya’s etchings are a brilliant and deeply moving representation of Napoleon’s invasion of Spain at the beginning of the 19th Century. Seeing these images gives some indication of why Goya, having experienced the horrors of war, went from being sycophantic portrait painter of polite society, to creator of the stunning and deeply disturbing Black Paintings held within Madrid’s Prado gallery.

Goya, Tampoco (1810-20)

Goya, Tampoco (1810-20)

Detail from one of Goya's Black Paintings

Detail from one of Goya’s Black Paintings

Goya’s etchings have since influenced a number of artists, including Picasso and the Chapman Brothers, but perhaps none more so than German artist Otto Dix, whose series of 51 etchings entitled Der Krieg (War) based on his gruesome experiences in the trenches during WW1, were also on display alongside the Goya works which inspired them. Dix’s etchings were incredibly moving, and unapologetic in their gruesome and violent portrayal of war, death, and devastating injury. All in black and white, these works didn’t need the vivid red of blood to convey the horror of the WW1 deathtol. Rather, in their monochromatic greys and blacks, they perfectly portrayed the grim horror of those times.

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Dix, Wounded Soldier

Dix, Wounded Soldier

Dix, Machine Gunners Advancing

Dix, Machine Gunners Advancing

It was perhaps with some relief that the fourth gallery showed us a lighter view of death – in fact, rather unusually, death’s relationship with eroticism as representations of death were shown intertwined with the nude and appearing to infiltrate the embrace of lovers. In this room, I loved the little optical illusion postcards which reminded me a bit of Dali. The skull appears in each to be the most prominent symbol, but look again and you can see a perfectly innocent domestic scene, which bears no relation at all to the skull which it at first appears to represent.

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La Vie et la Mort, Leben und Tod (Postcard c.1900-10)

The final room was a representation of the Dia de los muertos festival which has so fascinated me, along with other cultural representations of death in society around the world. I was particularly drawn towards Dan Salvo’s photos of shrines and elaborate altars (known as ofrendas) which are designed to welcome the spirits of those who have departed. I also loved the wall of Muertos dolls straight out of Mexico.

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So with some greater sense of joy, we left the exhibition, full of joys of the Mexican carnival, that was at least until we saw the last wall of the show which gave statistics about the causes of death around the world. Then our joy turned to slightly less jovial stark realism mixed with scientific curiosity as, captivated, we spent a good 5 minutes fascinated by the statistics which show that, far from the horrors of war, the greatest killer of mankind is the role of disease, illness and other irreparable physical conditions. Now if that isn’t a reminder to seize the day, I don’t know what is.

Death: A Self-Portrait is on at the Wellcome Collection until 24 February 2013

 

Norm Profile: Norm in the Jungle

Continuing my introduction to the Norms which I painted in the past, and expanding further upon the (variably) tropical theme of my Spanish season, the next Norm stepping into the limelight is Norm in the Jungle. This was the first Norm I ever painted. I gave him as a gift to my grandmother who always adored him, and continues to enjoy him still.

I’m not sure why I chose the jungle as the backdrop to my first Norm. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of a jungle, as I have been to forests with their dark creepy corridors between trees, naturally sheltered by the canopy of vast tree tops and low hanging luscious flowers and furry palms. I think I can identify two sources of inspiration for this fascination. Firstly the stories of the Moomins written and illustrated by Tove Jansson which I was obsessed with as a child. Through her vivid descriptions and beautiful illustrations, she really conjured the idea of a magical midnight forest, full of little creatures hiding under the trees, each plant and crag and corner being imbued with a sense of mystery and adventure.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)

Image via Wikipedia

The second influence is the art of Henri Rousseau. I adore Rousseau. He’s a great inspiration to me, first and foremost because, like me, he was a self-taught artist, and that lack of teaching can really be seen in the wonderful naivety of his art, as it can be in the work of other self-taught masters such as Frida Kahlo and Van Gogh. Thus in his work there is none of the pretention of a taught artist, but a vivid, often childlike imagination illustrated through wonderful scenes of jungle animals and full and voluptuous vegetation. My favourite work is probably “Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised!)” which we are lucky enough to have hanging in London’s National Gallery free for all to see. All of his jungle works have the power to transpose their audience to the tropics… which is amazing since Rousseau never went to the tropics himself. He actually sought inspiration for his jungle scenes from the Jardin des Plantes in Paris!

Well, Norm in the Jungle was painted a long time ago (in 2005), and as I hope to show you later this week with the exclusive unveiling of four new Norm paintings, the Norms have come on a lot since. But my obsession with jungles and plants remains still. Here is a painting I did in the summer, also out here in Spain, called “Paseo Banus”. A pure celebration of the wonderful plants which grow habitually out here in Andalucía.

Paseo Banus (2011, Acrylic on canvas)