Frida and me: D- is for Dreams

When Beatriz Acevedo woke up one morning from unsettling dreams, she found herself giving birth to a bright orange tiger… the tiger skin was smooth and almost liquid running through her body. It was a fully grown tiger with yellow eyes and grey whiskers. Beatriz understood -in her surprising new maternity- why conceiving can be so transformative; she felt high, elated, amazed at the bright feline creature that came out of her womb. The tiger looked at her, stretched its leg and left the room…

Dreams are so important in creativity, writing and painting, and in Frida’s art they play also a defining role. However, Frida Kahlo once said: “I do not paint my dreams, I paint my own reality”, referring in this way to the tragic realism of her own life. However, dreams are a key aspect in Frida’s art, not only because of her association with the surrealist movement, which considers dreaming as an essential state of mind for the artistic creation, but also because her images are magical and mystical, like in the landscape of dreams. Albeit she ended despising the european movement, her association with surrealism was a good way to let her work to be known beyond Mexico or the United States. Like many other female artists, surrealism opened a little tiny door for female painters to express themselves and be considered part of a movement. Female artists such as Leonora Carringtonm, Leonor Fini, Valentine Hugo, Jacquiline Lamba, Dora Maar, Lee Miller, Valentine Penrose, Alice Rahon and Remedios Varo, orbited and participated in the surrealism movement; in addition, Eileen Agar, Frida Kahlo, Meret Oppenheim and Kay Sage were “discoveries” of surrealist artists…

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Liquid Acrylic on Handmade paper. By Beatriz Acevedo

In the case of Frida Kahlo, the affiliation to surrealism, although not entirely appropriate, could have helped her to be “launched” and “known” in the artistic circles that mattered in the 1920’s and 1930s. Indeed most of this female artists might contest the affiliation to the surrealist movement (many were just part of the network of artists of the time, others were just starting their artistic career when the movement was already in decline), yet, it is possible to see many of the elements cherished by surrealists in their work. For surrealism, dreams and imagination were intimate manifestations of the artistic self; surrealists aimed at breaking with societal structures determined by the modernist belief in science and reason, for them, play, eroticism and automatic writing were emancipatory weapons against the social order. They also turned to women in search of muse, as in the case of Gala for Salvador Dali, Leonora Carrington for Max Ernst, and Lee Miller for Man Ray. However, as argued by Whitney Chadwick, this role is still submissive, and it does obscure the fact of a more pervasive revolution. Because the “muses” were actually active artists themselves: such is the case of Lee Miller, a talented photographer and painter in her own right, or Leonora Carrington, friend and contemporary of Frida, also labelled as surrealist

What it is really interesting to note is that women like Leonora or Frida, were the embodiment of all that surrealism held dear in its women: young, beautiful, vivacious, uninhibited and imaginative! but they did not really need surrealism to be like they were… issues such as liberal upbringing, social conditions and historical changes and cultural influences such as surrealism that ultimately as a “male gaze” make them visible (for good or bad). Without entering to contest how surrealist are really these artists, including Frida herself, it is important to note the fact that women artists were already exploring the issues of dreaming, intimacy and self. As argued by Chadwick: “Once again, the woman artist arrives intuitively at an ideological position created by men in her absence”… these intimate spaces are very much the realm of women (and men, of course) but somehow they have become potent expressions of the art in some female artists.

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Frida CCTV – Liquid Acrylic on Handmade paper

Beatriz Acevedo (c)


In relating this with my own process, I owe to surrealism the possibility of playing and experimenting. One of my favourite games is the exquisite corpse, in which a drawing is shared by two or more people. This game was the activity of many hundred of evenings of wine and music (courtesy of our friend Pepo and his music mania) with Nelson Pinilla and Tamar Prado. This game has been part of my own exploration and all my dear friends (and even my students) have been invited to play the exquisite corpse game…

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Frida Pies y Alas – Liquid Acrylic on Handmade paper

Beatriz Acevedo (c)

I love to remember my dreams as they are a source of images and ideas. I have kept a Dreams Diary since 2008 and from time to time I go there to fish for images or simply to have a walk through my oniric universe. Following these dreams, I created 6 small paintings using liquid acrylic (Golden) on hand made paper. The quality of the liquid acrylic is thick yet fluid and works very well with the hand made paper, giving it a very organic and vivacious look. In contrast to the realistic portraits of the previous weeks, this time I decided to find my own Frida, the Frida that inhabits my dreams, those images that come easily to my mind. I also relied on some of the images/icons used by Frida in her work: the sun, the moon, the mountain, nature, leaves and foliage, the holy heart, and the “ex votos” banner. Ex votos are a type of popular religious painting aiming at depicting a miracle or as a symbol of gratitude. Frida used this language to convey her own feelings, for example by offering coquettish portraits to her friends and lovers. In some other paintings, Frida used the banners to introduce the sitter or the situation, hence, I am thinking of including some of her quotations, from the diary, interviews or  letters.

The combination of text and images in these 6 illustrations, pays homage to Frida’s innovative painting, in her weaving visual languages and pictorial traditions/expressions. For example, she take the very local tradition of the ex-votos: a type of naïve painting used in popular culture to thank for certain type of miracles attributed to a saint (normally to the Virgin of Guadalupe or any other particular saint). As creatively showed in the exhibition Charms and Miracles at the Wellcome Institute some years ago,  Saints in the Latin American tradition are close friends, chums and sometimes accomplices… for instance, there is the story of this lady who was visiting her lover and was surprised by her jealous husband who inquire about what she was carrying in her basket. Indeed she was bringing some niceties for the romantic rendez vous, but she prayed to el Senor de  Villaseca (a particular type of saint or Christ figure) and said to the husband she was carrying flowers for the Shrine… when the husband looked in the basket he could only see the flowers!   Miracles like that, small and big, dramatic and intense, domestic or epic, are documented in simple drawings in the form of votives, that adorn churches and shrines. This is a very rudimentary type of painting, colourful and very graphic, as it aims at describe visually the miracle involved, because most of people were illiterate.


iCuts and Fridas

Mixed media, Collage. Original work by Beatriz Acevedo

Frida took on this tradition of the ex-votos by adding some “banners” and lettering to her paintings. One of the most gruesome examples is a painting of a murdered woman with splashes of blood all over the room and the husband observing with a knife in his hand. She was inspired by a real life murder in which the husband shamelessly described his deed as “just some little pierces”… “unos cuantos piquetitos”.

As they day went by, Beatriz noted that the tiger was always at her sight, never too close, never too far… she understood then that there are many forms of giving birth…


2 thoughts on “Frida and me: D- is for Dreams

  1. Pingback: What would Frida Kahlo do? Exhibition at Menier Gallery (Artists Pool), London. August/2016 | Artist and Educator

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