Throughout her short life and before rising to fame, Frida Kahlo gave away many of her drawings. Some were sketches of his most acclaimed works, others were portraits for his friends. However, they were mostly lines that she drew for herself. Sketches of her thoughts, as passages from her diary, with which any lucky viewer could interpret and learn about a more intimate, secret and hidden side of the artist. Before Kahlo entered the artistic history of Mexico and declared it a national monument, several of her drawings escaped the country and ended up in unknown locations. A book has managed to rescue 34 drawings of the more than 200 that are estimated to exist in the world from memory and the cruel passage of time for the delicate paper, which were distributed in museums and private collections out of reach of daily visits. These are sketches, portraits of friends and self-portraits, but also surreal fantasies and daydreams of the artist unknown until now and without equivalent in her oil works.
Kahlo’s artistic career is inseparable from her personal life. Each brushstroke of her oil paintings results in a construction of her own person, an expression of the artist’s anguish, as described by Marisol Argüelles, director and curator of the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo. After several years studying the work of the couple, Argüelles remembers the emotion he felt when he learned that a few dozen of Frida’s drawings had been collected, some that she did not know. “We have always seen her through her pictorial work or her biography. This is a much more free and personal facet of him ”, he assures. Free from the pressures of the critical eye and far from wanting to aspire to her husband’s career, Kahlo allowed herself to use her drawings for a more personal creative process. An imprint of your emotions.
“It is a new way of seeing Frida, someone whom we thought we knew widely and whose face has been reflected countless times throughout Mexico and in coffee shops around the world,” adds Argüelles about the commodification of the artist’s image. In the case of his drawings, we find ourselves before an unknown facet, absent in his oil paintings. “They are not just sketches, she uses them as an immediate tool for her thought,” continues the curator, who considers that Kahlo’s drawings, far from being a way of preparing some of her famous creations, are in themselves a separate work.
In the case of the drawing she made before painting the famous portrait of her husband and she holding hands, Diego and I, the differences with the original work are palpable. From the outfits, the objects shown in the painting, the direction in which she tilts her head, and even her expression, they give a new light to the interpretation of the work. In the sketch made in charcoal on paper, the details complete the vision and bring us closer to another thought of the artist, whose best-known version of that creation is in oil on canvas. The same is true of the portrait he painted of the botanist Luther Burbank. Variations are also repeated in oil Henry Ford Hospital or The lost desire in which Frida manages to add and remove elements of great relevance to the expressive meaning of the work, like a baby — her desire yearned for and frustrated.
Unknown drawings of Frida Kahlo.ARTIKA
Frida Kahlo lived in the shadow of Diego Rivera. When his work gained importance and was declared an Artistic Monument of Mexico in 1984 to prevent his paintings from leaving the country, it was too late. The singer Madona was the first to kick off the Kahlo fever when she started buying several of her pieces in the early 1980s, according to Argüelles. Frida’s works began to be highly valued in the market and her creations were distributed around the world. In addition, the artist had given away many of her drawings while she was alive, totally oblivious to the value that they would receive years later. Some of his sketches ended up in private collections and museums spread over Europe and the United States. To this day, many of them are still unaccounted for.
The main problem with his charcoal sketches on paper – in addition to the fact that only 130 of the 230 that are believed to exist have been identified – is their fragility to the passage of time and light. The mere fact of exposing them to the public would put the integrity of the work at risk, which is why most drawings are kept under lock and key hidden from the everyday eye.
Macarena de Eguilior, the editorial director of Artika —the publisher that has collected the drawings in a book for collectors that will only have 3,000 copies—, recalls that the project finding the works was not easy. “We had to access private or private collections with photographers in different countries,” he details. On some occasions, the current owners of these drawings were suspicious and asked not to be named. Photographing delicate material through the glass of the frame was also challenging. Finally, with the help of Helga Prignitz-Poda, Art historian and curator of specialized exhibitions on Frida, they finally selected 34 drawings to include in the edition. With her comments and pages from the artist’s personal diary, the collection decodes her unknown graphic work, in which the artist expresses her dreams and draws them in an enigmatic way.
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