|Kahlo at the Skirball
||[Dec. 17th, 2010|08:39 pm]
This week I attended a talk on Frida Kahlo by Judy Chicago at the|
Kahlo's an interesting artist, at the intersection of several ideas.
She's well known, but not very prolific. Her work is oversymbolic and
surreal, but is in no way associated with the Surrealists. The
paintings can be quite intimate. Like an outsider artist, her images
are very individual: they don't look much like other artist's work. To
my eye her style isn't adapted from her overbearing famous husband
Diego Rivera. Her work is unique, and sweet.
During the talk I gained a more substantial understanding of Kahlo's
painting styles. She often painted long flowing clothing, but I found
them unconvincing. Her early portrait of her father isn't very
realistic. She gives him big eyes and a pensive mouth, with a mottled
background similar to a field of sunflowers. The image is stiff, but
charming and romantic.
One detail which Kahlo always gets right is eyes. Even in earlier
works her painted eyes, or camera lenses, are interesting and look
A work I hadn't considered before is a painting of fruit. It also
looks rather individual, as if painted by an outsider artist, but is
much more than that. It's overflowing with ripeness and mystery and
sex. Again Kahlo transforms what could be a staid scene into one with
individuality and emotion.
Judy Chicago was a very engaging speaker. She bristles at the idea of
women's subjugation throughout time and with each word she highlights
and angrily jokes about the inequities. She was very happy to put
herself and her feminist viewpoint along with Kahlo, highlighting
their strengths. Her book is a series of essays written by and with
art historian Frances Borzello. I like the idea of two skilled artists
trading ideas back and forth over a topic -- looking forward to
reading "Frida Kahlo: Face to Face."
In my own artwork I strive for realism. I want a drawing to be
detailed and interesting. If I'm drawing something and it's not good
enough, I often get frustrated and give up. Over the last few years
I've gradually realized this view is missing the point. An engaging
piece of art is not necessarily a photograph, it's an *idea*. Ideas
are not bombastic or strident, they're intimate and personal.
Something overarching and world-spanning like "give peace a chance" is
antiseptic and dull. The simplest and most mundane commonalities of
life can become the most moving and wonderful works of art.
At the Skirball, the piece that struck me the most wasn't Kahlo's or
Chicago's, it was the work of a child. Outside the hall where Chicago
spoke is a series of thirty or so paintings and other artworks by
developmentally disabled young adults. The first image floored me.
It's a painting of a Holland style windmill. A boxy house is in the
lower part of the frame, and the mill sits heavily on top. In the
lower part of the image is a small garden. The work is mostly in
blues and purples -- the artist's last name translates to "blue." The
style is incredibly rough and awkward, with splotches of paint mashed
into place. The purple windmill has large gawky sails of red-purple
cinderblocks. I couldn't take my eyes off this wonderfully powerful
The artist has a small statement. She painted it in honor of her
grandfather, who wanted to return to his homeland but never did. So,
by painting his dream, and integrating their last name "blue", she was
creating and fulfilling his last wish.
As an artist, my visit to the Skirball has left me with much to ponder.