Christine Strelan - Between the Covers

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

Alcantara & Egnolff

Prestel 2005

You could say Frida Kahlo was like the Elizabeth Taylor of the Mexican art scene. Like Liz, she emphasised her striking black hair and eyebrows, married her husband twice, and suffered chronic ill health in later life. Her relationship with Diego Rivera was rife with conflict and infidelity, and its easy to imagine an evening at their place degenerating into Whos Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Born in 1907, Kahlo was exceptional right from the start, seeking educational opportunities rarely available to girls at that time. Despite having suffered with polio as a child, she excelled academically. Indeed, her whole life was a combination of physical suffering with artistic talent. The stand-out event in a life packed with drama was the bus accident which left her with eleven fractures of the right leg, her right foot had been dislocated and crushed, her left shoulder was dislocated and her spine and pelvis were injured. Her collar bone, two ribs and the pubic bone were also broken. An iron rod had skewered her left hip to stick out through her vagina. The preoccupation with herself and her body in her art is understandable. Kahlos work is extremely personal, and so private in its imagery that some viewers find it indulgent or incomprehensible. Its hard not to be fascinated, though; some of her paintings are disturbing in their intensity.

Rivera, on the other hand, was a very public, social artist. He painted giant murals which reflected his Left-wing convictions, portraying the history and politics of Mexico. He was also a philandering pig, and Kahlos lifelong devotion to him is hard to fathom. At least, after six years of his affairs, she began having her own, including one with Riveras hero, Leon Trotsky.

Packed with photos and illustrations, Alcantara and Egnolffs book is detailed and informative, using frequent quotes from the artists themselves. Though their primary concern does seem to be Kahlo, they give Rivera a fair hearing. Even if you dont like their art, the story of Kahlo and Rivera is up there with Ted and Sylvia, Mick and Marianne, and not forgetting Liz and Richard, highbrow soap opera at its best.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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