Hola! I have two really short but excellent books for you this week. Great for tourists wondering, “why all the hoop-la about Frida and Diego?” And why doesn’t that woman tame her eyebrow?
Frida Kahlo, the Artist Who Painted Herself, by Margaret Frith, illustrated by Tomie dePaolo. Grossest and Dunlap. New York. 2003.($5.99).
Diego, by Jeannette Winter, text by Jonah Winter, in English and Spanish (New York Times Winner)1991. Dragonfly Books, Random House, N.Y. (Unpaged). $6.99.
”! These are two books by different authors with very different styles, easily read, and informative for those knowing just a little about Frida and Diego, two of Mexico’s most famous artists. It’s also great for those of us who’ve already read many accounts of this famous couple and their stormy lives, because it focuses mostly on the impact each had on their beloved Mexico. The books are written for all ages, and the artwork is basic and beautiful, capturing both the simplicity and strong emotion in the works by these two artists.
First, Frida Kahlo. Much younger, and still unknown when she married Diego, she somewhat eclipses his fame today, probably because of all her self-portraits, done when she was bedridden after polio, and then, again as a teenager who was in a horrific streetcar accident. Her father installed a mirror over her bed, and her art career began with drawings of herself during the long months spent in bed. (Before that she aspired to be a doctor).
Her paintings are so full of emotion, both joy and mystery, that we struggle to know and better understand her life. There are pictures of her paintings in the book, and illustrations of the many plants and animals (parrots, song birds, cats, dogs, a deer, and a monkey,) in the courtyard around her beloved Blue House, (Casa Azul), near Mexico City. Only one of her more painful paintings is shown, The Two Fridas.
Her style and the subjects of her sometimes dark and painful paintings come from her years of suffering. Understanding that adds to the mystique and appreciation of her works.
Jose Diego Maria Riviera was born in Guanajuato, Mexico. He married Frida when he was already a famous muralist, and she was still a young unknown. Born one of twins, he was a sickly boy and sent to live with an Indian healer in the mountains after his twin brother died at age two. In a few years, he became strong and healthy, returned home to his family and began drawing on everything, even the walls, so that his Dad finally covered his room with blackboards for his drawings and first murals that covered his whole room.
Not happy at school, not even art school, he wanted to paint from life, and not models. He became famous for his murals, which told the story of Mexican people in simple shapes and basic colors. He changed the meaning of art, wanting his murals to be seen and accessible to the common people, and not merely relegated to fancy frames in museums.
He was first and foremost an artist for the working class people of Mexico. In his lifetime, it is said that he painted more than two and a half miles of murals, and he was an inspiration to other artists to paint on walls. He died in 1957.
The last sentences in this book: His paintings made people proud to be Mexican. They still do.”
These are summaries of both small books. The differences in style and presentation adds to the interest, and basic life information is covered without going into politics and problems. Each is a great summary that gives insight into why these two artists are so important to the Mexican people, and to the art world. The book on Diego is bilingual, written in both English and Spanish. This adds more interest for both children and those of us who are adults. And that still doesn’t explain that hideous eyebrow.
You can read these and other larger book about Frida and Diego at my book store, El Caballo Blanco, in Loreto, which is half way up the peninsula. Now that you have a taste of these two artists, there are many more comprehensive books about their lives, marriage and their art.