Behind every single cloud there is a blue sky! This is not a pep talk, it is just a reality of life and I can account for my own transformation from grey to colour, from anxiety to calm and joy. For this final post celebrating Frida’s birthday, I will give you an A for Affirmation. Through her paintings and self-portraits she was affirming her place in the world. Her piercing eyes transcending the canvas, showing that the pain or the tragedy of her situation can be seen as a resolution to opt for life and passion. I think that perhaps this is one of the key messages of her art and a potential reason why her work is so contemporary. Because one makes choices, all the time! of course there are certain circumstances but it is me who decides what to do with them. Frida refused to be a “victim”… “pobrecita yo, pobrecita la cojita” was never her way. On the opposite, she celebrated who she was, her identity, her mixed race, her Mexican rich heritage: she clothed herself as a work of art, her jewels, her clothes, her textiles, all of that is a celebratory affirmation of being a Mexican woman! And I think that this is so relevant now, when one may aspire to be somebody else, to have somebody’ else body or race or job or… etc. For LatinAmerican people, richin culture yet doubtful (specially if you are living abroad or being threatened as “alien”) it is so important to believe in ourselves!
Two years ago I was going through a very difficult period of stress and disappointment. The summer was in full glory and I could not relate to it. I had to cancel my travels, commitments and take time off work. What have I done with myself? I wondered… what am I going to do?… not easy questions and I had to seek the answers. One year later, the change could not be more positive! And this post is about it: affirming life, affirming art and pursuing my dreams!
The series of portraits for this exhibition are actually a task of affirmation. I took on the challenge with some hesitations (am I ready?) but taking a leap of faith and responding to the trust of my gallerist: Emmeline Webb. Moreover I decided to try a complete different medium: oil painting, guided by the expert instruction of portraitist Lesley Longworth. Together we have spent most marvelous hours working on our portraits and projects.
For this series I used the beautiful pictures of Frida taken by Nick Murray when they became lovers around 1938-1940. The story goes that the pictures were in a box, until Nick’s daughter discovered them in the attic. They are so revealing: they are intimate and loving, and they show Frida in a so different fashion. Instead of the strong gaze and stern attitude, these are pictures full of love, intimacy and playfulness. They show a soft Frida, fully dressed and adorned with jewels, flowers and braids, but in a more serene attitude. Most of the pictures were taken in the studio, but there are many others that were taken in Coyoacan, in la Casa Azul: some of them with Diego Rivera (her philanderer husband), with family and friends. The photographs, collected in a magnificent book “I Will Never Forget You” by Salomon Grimberg, really take you to the Rivera/Kahlo intimate surroundings, their home, their pets, their plants, their daily life…
The first portrait was based on a picture of Frida smoking, I followed the instructions of doing a quick sketch in black and white and delineate the main features. Then I started applying painting and something almost magical happened: the face got a life and depth that I had not thought about. I was completely drunk of happiness with the whole exercise and determined to keep on going. For many weeks I left this started knowing that I have to complete it, but when I did some other portraits I realised I did not want to spoil that original expression that was so powerful. Thus, at the end, I decided to leave it as it is, and I only completed the background in a cerulean blue.
Frida Coyoacan and Cigar (2014)
Copyright. Beatriz Acevedo
The second portrait was Frida against a sort of pink wall, her frontal gaze and a very simple (for her standards) hair style. I was very encouraged by the first portrait, but this time, the effect was a bit more difficult to achieve, although I am happy with her gaze and the combination of colours: in a purple/orange degrade and she looking directly to us. The problem, or better, the challenge is to determine where is the gaze of the photographer, is she looking forward but is the photographer taller than her, thus creating a different tilt of her face? In the first attempt I struggle with the lights and darks, that ultimately give coherence to the face, and her ears were a bit too big… the trick, as Lesley gently insist, to take distance and to be ruthless in the assignation of the lights and darks. To see, not to imagine, to look instead of guessing…
Frida Purple (2014)
Copyright. Beatriz Acevedo
The third portrait concerns a hard lesson: in the first take I managed to capture most of her features, although the style was a bit expressionist and the brushstrokes were rather harsh. Weeks later, after improving a bit in my take of the portraits, I decided to “improve” it…but I actually muddled it up! Oh disaster…time is running and I wanted to leave this ready before my travel!!!! I called Lesley in despair unable to do anything else, my only desire was to slash the canvas and start again! Luckily she came to my rescue and took off the muddled paint with a cloth, revealing the old features and correcting bits and bobs from the previous version. I left the paint for some days and after my morning meditation I submit myself to the task of patiently (and with finesse) recover her face. I used my fingers as a way of diffusing the paint, because in this picture, the darks and lights are very pronounced. In the expressionist version, the face was painted in blue tones, thus I tried to refine the features and create more volume. I also thought of painting the background in indian pale yellow, but it did not work so well, so I took it off, and return to a more pink/blueish combination. Days later I also applied some delicate layers of “flesh tint” in order to soften the blue tone of the skin. I am quite happy with the result and instead of a expressionist portrait, this is a softer interpretation of Frida in her Casa Azul.
Frida Rebozo (2014)
Copyright. Beatriz Acevedo
But the exhibition is called Frida and Me, thus, I decided to do a self-portrait. Once I knew I had a bit of time and I did not have to rush thus I started the paint. I took a number of photographs using the computer camera and I asked my friends in Facebook which one to use. There was not a single winner so I opted for the one I thought it reflect my moment in life. The picture in itself is a more collected version of my public persona: the bubbly, outgoing personality! Instead, this is a more intense portrait, my gaze is directly fixed to the viewer. I feel more grounded, more solid and closer to earth… perhaps is the work in the garden, or my own need of looking instead of imagining. It may be also the fact that I want to see my life as it is: a rich and marvellous life, full of promise and experience: it is not a young face, neither is a flattering portrait, it has my lines and puffy eyes, and I feel I am very happy with myself! And this is the result.
Self-portrait in blues (2014)
Copyright. Beatriz Acevedo
So, one year after being in the country of despair and self-doubt, I am a different person. The breakdown helped me to take key decisions: not only going part time (that happened before the water got to my neck) but in the way in which I were going to face li fe. I subverted the situation: instead of depending of others or external recognition for my own self-worth I returned to my roots, gathered all my talents and decided to abandon the “race”. I got the support of my husband, always there, wise and loving, and the company of my friends (clandestine angels!), the true people that are with me. I abandoned the “victim” approach and I took responsibility. In all, art and painting have been clearly a path of enlightenment and learning. The rushed paintings have given place to a more meditative art, without losing my spontaneity and playful self. The quest of preparing an exhibition is supported by the skills I’ve acquired in my professional self, but being aware of the need of keeping a balance and keeping play and idleness as part of the equation. Its all as Kandinsky said a spiritual experience, but also, a way of affirming life over sadness, hope over despair and learning over “productivity”.
I know the road is long, and every day I learn something new about my emotions, my spiritual and artistic journey. In all, art and painting have been clearly a path of enlightenment and learning. And this is just the beginning….
I am so happy to share this exhibition with the world, it is a present of affirmation, amistad y amor!