I collaborated with Fandango again to celebrate Halloween. Seriously, how cute is this little girl? She’s my friend’s youngest daughter, and just the sweetest little thing. We both had so much fun playing dress up and playing make believe. The movie Inside Out is certainly a great movie to ‘act out’. The film focuses on the different emotions of a little named Riley – Joy, Disgust, Sadness, Anger and Fear. Once the wigs came on, the real fun began, especially with Disgust.
Of all the artists I love and admire, Frida Kahlo may very well be right at the top of the list. The first time I saw one of her paintings was around the age of six. My mother and I took the train to Manhattan from the Bronx to see the modern art greats at MoMA. I remember learning about the father of Cubism Picasso and the pioneer of modernism Brancusi. But nothing took my breath away like Frida Kahlo. I was mesmerized by the look in her eyes and her communication of sadness. I was a little girl so I could not quite understand the complexities of her work but I saw the depth in her eyes. I knew there was something she wanted to reveal to her viewers … But I couldn’t grasp what it was (yet).
I recall feeling a connection to her. She kind of, sort of … looked like me! That was a huge deal. Up until that point, my exposure to art was filled with European aristocrats and blue-eyed biblical figures. Frida had dark, wavy hair similar to mine with thick eye brows (pre-tweezer years), dark brown eyes and olive skin. I also noticed that her work was not “fancy”, as I would say. You can see the layers of paints and the strokes from her hand. It felt very hand-made and authentic. As I stared at the paintings, my mother looked over at me and said “she’s Mexican.” At that moment, I made the cultural and language connection. She was, in fact, a lot like me.
Here are three ways Frida Kahlo taught me about love, life and pursuing your dreams.
The art world was accessible to me
Since the age of three, I always had some sort of crayon or marker in my hand. I preferred art over dolls or any other toy. I spent countless hours drawing the world around me (whether it was good or bad), women doing everyday things and portraits. In school, I helped the teachers decorate the school with art (cut-outs, drawings, etc). In fact, it was my 10th grade art teacher who encouraged me to study art. Not entirely sure how to go about a career in the arts, I enrolled into a 2-year Catholic college after high school and pursued commercial art and advertising because I thought it would be more “secure”. However, after exhibiting one of my pieces at a school art show, one of my painting teachers encouraged me to study at an art school in the city. I took his advice and went to the School of Visual Arts. It was a very exciting time. Pursuing art was not the norm for kids in my neighborhood .. or even my family. No one in my little Bronx community thought about art, much less cared about a job in the field. Anything art related was not considered a “real” job. My family, although encouraging, saw it as a hobby. The older generation thought my little “dibujitos” were nice, but a job? No way. My mother stood 100% by me, and knew that I needed to spread my wings and give it shot because … Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?
I strongly feel that my early exposure to Frida, a powerful Latina artist, is why I felt that a career in the arts was just as accessible to me as any other career in another field. I majored in Illustration and Art Education, and started my venture in the arts. My student teaching requirements led me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I worked with Latino children who reminded me so much of my 6 year old self. That was it. That is what I wanted to do. I wanted to show kids the beauty that is modern art. And that’s just what I did for close to 17 years. During that time, I studied Modern Art at Columbia University, lectured at other museums during the evening and exhibited my paintings in several shows.
One of the things that bothered me about my illustration courses in college was the lack of diversity in the images I was asked to create. I did not relate to any of them. With Frida living in my subconscious (along with a recent visit to Ecuador), I started painting what I felt passionate about and no longer cared about grades. I started with a series of women from Otavalo, EC. I’m half Ecuadorian, and felt such a deep spiritual connection the history of this country and the people. You could not tell me that I was not an Incan in a past life. In fact, when I was in grad school, I took a course on Meso-American art because I just knew that I lived in Andes centuries ago. I was obsessed with the Chimú culture in particular. Obsessed. I wore coral beads, turquoise, ponchos and was just all about that life. Hey, if Frida could do it .. Why couldn’t I? Fortunately, my teacher at the time (who wore mismatched socks and never brushed his hair because he hated rules) liked my tenacity and gave me an A in the course.
The painting on the right won my teacher over for an assignment completely unrelated.
Anything you can do, I can do better
Ah, my motto when it comes to men. Now, don’t get me wrong. Men are great. I’m not anti-men. Feminist? Yes. A man hater? Not at all. But I never – ever – felt less than a man or as though my job or contribution wasn’t as important. As a woman, you should never allow a man to oppress you in anyway (work, personal life, anywhere). You shouldn’t allow anyone to do that, period. But if you’ve been down the tough relationship road (or are in one) recognize it as the fuel and path to empowerment and strength.
Think about it. Do we celebrate Diego’s birthday like we do with Frida? He was a groundbreaking and monumental figure in the art world, there’s no denying that. However, he was also at the core of much Frida’s inner struggle and pain. But like any strong woman, she used that pain and made something beautiful from it. She shared her story and as a result left a legacy behind that has impacted the world. His affairs certainly gave her a lot to draw from, literally. I learned that no matter what … We are built to overcome and come out stronger in the end if we learn from the journey.
Happy birthday Frida, and thank you for sharing your life with us. In honor of her upcoming birthday, I share more about my love for all things Frida in this article – The Day Frida Kahlo Changed My Life.
“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” ― Frida Kahlo
I love a beautiful coffee table book, don’t you? I love it even more when it’s something unexpected that you don’t usually see. I was recently sent this beautiful book by art historian and Barnes Foundation educator Jay Raymond called Mangle Boards of Northern Europe. I honestly can’t say I knew a whole about mangle boards or much about their craftsmanship and history until I opened the pages of this book. It is filled with striking photography and makes for a lovely conversation piece fit for any home as it beautifully depicts a domestic activity we can all relate to. Ironing.
Mangle Boards Coffee Table Book
If you’re new to the world of mangle boards – They’re basically a plank of wood used with a rolling pin to smooth out wrinkles from linen. Primarily used during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, the boards range from nondescript and simple to ornate and flamboyant in nature. In the book, Mr. Raymond explores their key visual aspects and aesthetic accomplishments – large and small. The striking photos provides the viewer with close-ups of each board’s handles and knobs – some of which are shaped like animals, foliage, cherubs and biblical scenes. They’re also detailed with inscriptions of the original owners name, prayers and domestic celebratory phrases like “washed white and neatly folded”. Don’t you just love that? Coming from a family who made laundry and ironing a ritual, I became completely fascinated with the different stories told in each board and the history engrained in each detail.
Mr. Raymond analyzed about 1,500 boards from the 16th century to present day Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Germany and Netherlands. How amazing would it to see these in person? If only we knew more about each owner and their lives. These are the stories that never make it to history books.
Mangle Boards of Northern Europe does exactly what it’s set out to do. Spark an interest. Create a dialogue. The book has certainly left me wanting to go deeper into the history of mangle boards. Furthermore, I think that surrounding your living space with books and art says a lot about your interests to your guests and immediately provides insight into who you are and what you like. My home is rather minimalist but I love to keep my collection of books visible on shelves and table tops. I don’t yet have the perfect coffee table. Because, teens. But I always loved the way a huge table looks with a stack of gorgeous books, some candles, a small bouquet, aaaah. Thank you Jay Raymond for generously gifting me this beautiful book.
A few weeks ago, I decided to park my car in Highland Park to check out a few of the new shops, cafes and art galleries that I’ve noticed sprouting up over the last few years. It’s always fun to check out smaller shops and boutiques with original and vintage items. It’s good for the soul to steer away from mass produced things, which seems to be just about everywhere you look these days. I was so inspired by York Blvd, I invited my son out for an afternoon of sandwiches and art.
I think one of my new favorite places right now has to be Align Gallery. The space itself is just fantastic. Huge windows with lots of sunshine peeking in and a back patio fit for parties and events. And if their current exhibition is an indicator of the kind of shows being produced here … I will certainly be back for more.
Currently on view at Align is LA based artist Sequoia Emmanuelle, whose stunning photography left me in awe. Her work is a mix of film, graphic and set design mixed in with high fashion and theatre. As you can see, the work is exploding with color and texture. My son, who is really not an art buff (although he grew up with it) was stopped in his tracks. That made me very happy, as these pieces and the space reminded me so much of the underground art scene of New York during the 80s and 90s. I like that he got to somewhat feel that energy in a small way. Because really, there’s no feeling like it.
Some of the headdresses featured in Emmanuelle’s work were designed by mixed-media artist, Daniella White. Aren’t they stunning? My son said they reminded him of Queen Padmé Amidala’s stunning costumes in Star Wars. Personally, I wanted to wear one but that would be a big no-no. But hey, her work is designed to bring out one’s inner beauty, wild side, and higher self. This Leo is always ready to wear her feathered and jeweled mythical headdress. The temptation was real, my friends.
Daniella White is inspired by the natural world, feminine forms, mythology, music, art deco/art nouveau, tribal shamanism and mysticism, and uses many natural elements in her work – feathers, horns, vintage fur, jewelry and textiles from all over the world. There are so many details in each piece .. It’s simply breathtaking.
Who knew that a random stroll would lead to such inspiration! Sometimes you have to get out of your car, walk and discover! Oh hey, Amanda Lepore.
I’ve mentioned this before … But I need art to keep me going. It was one of those days that I just could not bear being at the computer any longer. I looked in my inbox and remembered there was an opening at the Pacific Asia Museum. I love going to that museum. The garden, the collection … Oh, so soothing. I RSVP’d and made my way over to Pasadena for an evening of modern design genius.
I spend a lot of time looking at design online, but there’s nothing like getting up, close and personal to the work of the greats like Japanese artist Ikko Tanaka – one of the most prolific graphic designers in the last 50 years.
The exhibition is exactly what my Excel sheet vision needed. It was a vibrant celebration of ukiyo-e tradition, abstraction and typography all in one space in the form of logos, print ads, posters and books. Tanaka’s style is provocative yet minimalist in execution. I’m always fascinated by an artist’s ability to do this. I tend to over-render my paintings, and was never able to break it down to a simpler form. Just not in my artistic DNA to do it. That would explain why I’m not a graphic designer. Tanaka’s brilliance is the ability to seamlessly combine traditional Japanese prototypes in a very modern way while keeping its traditional grace and beauty.
Muses, when you’re in a creative rut, hit up an art show. Even if it’s not the kind of art you do or are into. In fact, you must go especially if it’s not art you tend to navigate toward. It helps you step out of the box. And if you can find one that’s vivid, even better. Nothing like color and shapes to feed the brain. Tanaka’s show is up until August 2nd.
Thanks to PacAsia for the images!
As I mentioned in my #WeAllGrow Summit post, I was the host for one of the field trips to the Natural History Museum. A group of us were given a lovely tour by the museum’s education department of their permanent collections and their current exhibition GRANDES MAESTROS: GREAT MASTERS OF IBEROAMERICAN FOLK ART. I have to make it back to the museum with my guys. The exhibition was so beautiful and rich, I beamed with Latin American pride. The exhibition includes more than 800 works made by approximately 600 of the most accomplished artists from 22 countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Uruguay, Venezuela as well as Spain and Portugal.
Of course the pieces from Puerto Rico and Ecuador warmed my heart, and made me wish I could just fly to both places to see my family. This vejigante carnival mask (made of paper mache with a history that dates back to the 1700s) looks like one of many I collected from Puerto Rico and Dominican Republic. The beautiful colors represent what the Caribbean spirit is all about, and I love that it was included in the exhibit.
When I was child, my mother had several wooden sculptures from her visit to Ecuador of a man and woman working. The image of the couple working peacefully together always stayed with me as a symbol of love and unity. They were both so beautiful and calm. Growing up in NY in a busy household, I recall finding moments of stillness and quiet in those sculptures. During my last visit to Ecuador, I actually found a similar sculpture set and brought it back with me. Something about it feels like home. When I saw Ecuador represented in Grandes Maestros, I had to stop and take in every little detail. How beautiful are those two women sitting on the bench?
There are tons of beautiful textiles throughout … Because really, you cannot represent Latina America without showing extraordinary bead and stitch work. Same goes for craftsmanship. These jaguars took my breath away. Not only because they’re so beautifully done but because jaguars are actually my spirit/power animal – Eccentric, proud creatures who are capable of achieving greatness as long as they can keep their temper under control. They’re actually pretty solitary, which is something I try to balance all the time. They’re quiet, observant and patient until … they’re not. I can go on and on about the traits of the jaguar that I feel a spiritual connection to, but that may be a post on its own. There’s a South American legend that says the jaguar’s spots come from mud that was dabbed on with his paws. The spots set the cat apart from the others, and is why he is considered the most unrivaled of the species. According to the Mayans, the jaguar is the earth father and has authority over the sacred power of all the animals on earth. We all have an animal we feel spiritually connected to .. What’s yours?
If you’re in town, you have to stop by NHM to see the show. It’s up until September.
There’s something about Spring that gives me this need to surround myself with Degas’ work. The gold frames and pastel canvases always the mark the beginning of the season for me, so imagine my surprise when I saw that the Norton Simon Museum had moved their pieces around to create a gallery solely dedicated to the artist. Usually, his work can be found throughout (and it still can) but they moved the Little Dancer into a space of her own, and surrounded her with many of Degas’ most beloved works of art.
The dark gray dimly lit walls were perfection. It created the mood for what much of Degas’ work is known for – voyeurism (Oh, hello. Don’t mind me. I’m just creepily standing behind you. Keep bathing. Keep dancing). Many would disagree, and have argued that he simply enjoyed the ballet and was just capturing a moment. And that his bathers were just studies of form, not much different from his horses. I say, it’s not such a black and white topic. From what I know, he did not have relationships, he frequented brothels and spent most of his life painting. It’s not so far fetched to believe that a person who lives a life with no intimacy would be a voyeur. Today’s online culture is a key example of many desensitized people displacing intimacy with images, no?
One thing is for sure, Degas’s work ethic is one to be admired. He is proof that you must never stop being a student, and that it takes many tries (drawings, sketches, models) before completing your final product. Everything today is go, go, go … Looking at his study pieces is almost meditative for me and a reminder that the process of creation is far more important than the result (and many times, more beautiful). His sense of endless inventiveness and artistic curiosity is a huge inspiration for me, and I simply can’t imagine the month of April without a Degas fix.
I think it’s so crucial to not only surround yourself with art, but to make it a part of your life in some way. It awakens the senses and inspires the soul. I always leave a museum with a new take on the world and my surroundings, and still find it hard to believe how many artists like Degas were scrutinized for their vision. Yet, their masterpieces live on to inspire.
Right after 9/11, a friend of mine and I curated a show that focused on the stereotypes of Islamic cultures by featuring artists/photographers/film makers whose work represented the larger discussions that were taking place during the time. Our show “Body” had a very successful turnout with artists who taught us so much about the misconceptions of Islamic cultures. Although New York/New Jersey is a “melting pot”, there is much segregation and stereotyping within the local communities themselves (even if they look diverse on the outside). Fortunately, I was in the museum field at the time, so the conversations taking place around me (Shirin Neshat being my biggest eye opener) were void of sensationalism – Unlike today’s social media world (the field I am currently in). I have to sift through memes and misinformation on Facebook just to see Neshat’s updates, which just goes to show the state of conversations today and how quickly misinformation can spread. As an art historian, a witness to how art can redirect/shape dialogues and a strong believer that knowledge gives birth to empowerment, I want to share this extraordinary museum initiative called LA / Islam Arts.
Underscoring Los Angeles’s role as one of the epicenters of visual constructions regarding Islam and the Middle East, through architecture, film and its large Middle Eastern and Islamic populations, LA/Islam Arts Initiative will take over Los Angeles from October-December with a series of events including video installations, scholarly symposia, films, concerts, performances, and more. If you live in LA, I strongly encourage being a part of this much-needed museum conversation. The first of these shows are Doris Duke’s Shangri La and Shangri La: Imagined Cities, which are currently on view at Barnsdall. Both shows anchor this highly anticipated initiative and provides a collective overview of contemporary works that produce a multiplicity of worlds, interpretations, and investigations without ignoring the implications of organizing around particular geographic or religious lines. If you want to see the schedule of events, visit LA Islam Arts for more info!
(Doris Duke Earrings and Hand Mirror)
An Opening of the Field is an exhibition featuring the artists Jess, Robert Duncan and their circle. That alone is fantastic as far as my “I love collaborations” mind goes. This is the first exhibition to focus on the artistic production and relationship between the artists and their friends. It makes me wonder what kind of show my friends and I would have. I would love to see what kind of brilliant exhibit curators Christopher Wagstaff and Michael Duncan would put together. What they would do with forensic scientists, writers, photographers and bloggers remains to be unknown but An Opening of the Field: Jess, Robert Duncan, and Their Circle, has already been honored by the International Associations of Art Critics-United States with an award in Excellence in Art Criticism and Curatorial Achievement for Best Thematic Show Nationally (Currently on view at the Pasadena Museum of California Art).
Jess and Robert Duncan were one of the most captivating artistic couples of the 20th century. The artists shared a romantic and professional partnership that can be seen in many of their pieces. The mutual appreciation for mythologies, transformative narrative and the appropriation of image is evident in Jess’s paintings and Duncan’s colorful abstract drawings.
The exhibition also includes works by members of their circle – R. B. Kitaj, Edward Corbett, Wallace Berman, Lawrence Jordan, George Herms, Jack Spicer, Robin Blaser, and Michael McClure. I mean, that’s a quite a group of friends. Makes me think of the saying my grandfather used to tell me dime con quién andas, y te diré quién eres. The show alone is a remarkable collection of people inspired by one another.
You can learn more about Jess and Robert Ducan at PMCA. The show is on view at the Pasadena Museum of Art until January 11, 2015 before traveling to the Katzen Arts Center at American University. If you’re nowhere near, you can grab yourself a beautiful catalogue.
Thank you PMCA for the images.
GAMORA, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
This pretty young lady is my friend’s daughter and one of my son’s closest female friends. They’ve pretty much grown up together and he is now kind of like her big brother ‘protector’ at the High School. When my son was looking up Star Lord costumes for himself, he said “You know who would make a great Gamora?” At that moment, the wheels started turning as I have been talking to the awesome people at Fandango to recreate something for Halloween. And here you have it, Gamora. If you’d like to recreate this look, I list the products I used here but I break it down on Fandango.