Monday, November 08, 2004

Interview With Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo

The World
With Nick Bravo (NB)

Tonight on the show, we are joined by perhaps, the two finest artists in Mexican history. With lives that passionately intertwined and finished only years apart, theirs was a tumultuous love. Communists, painters, lovers, geniuses and revolutionaries, please make welcome, Diego Rivera (DR) and Frida Kahlo (FK).

NB: Welcome to the show.

DR: It’s nice to be here.

FK: Thank you.

NB: Diego, let me start first with you. You were born in Guanajuato, but moved to Mexico City at a young age. What was it that made you love painting?

DR: Well Nick, my family was quite poor as you know, and one of the ways we entertained ourselves was to paint. My father painted, though never more than as a hobby, and I think that as a young man I certainly looked up to him. Seeing him painting got me interested and I started taking classes and eventually became a full-time student.

NB: Frida, your father was a painter and photographer. What kind of effect did that have on you?

FK: Funnily enough my love for painting grew later in my life. Earlier on I wanted to get into medicine. I was so interested in curing people, relieving them of their pain. My artistic side bloomed later.

NB: It was the infamous bus accident that changed your path wasn’t it?

FK: Yes Nick. It’s been well documented. As a part of my healing process, I guess just to relieve my boredom more than anything else, I started painting. And it wasn’t like I had painkillers and experts putting me back together. Those were hard times and I really suffered. I mean, I didn’t get out of bed for a year. But I found an outlet, luckily, in my painting and that in some ways saved me I guess….

NB: Well, it certainly gave birth to an extraordinary talent. Diego, I guess for you, there was no bus crash, but would you describe your travel to Europe as a turning point in your life?

DR: I would Nick, I would. I was lucky enough to get a travel grant to go to Spain in 1907 and from there I managed to travel quite a bit and to see a lot of Europe.

NB: And it was in Europe that you met Angelina, the first great love of your life.

DR: Yes, I was in Brussels and we met and I was lucky enough to spend the next twelve years with her. She was a wonderful woman. We spent most of our time together in Paris where I exhibited quite a bit. It was an incredible time to be in Paris. Those were the days of the modern Renaissance and Paris was vibrant and elaborate and glamorous. There was an unavoidable energy I the air at that time.

NB: Frida, I’d like to ask you about the impact of your overseas travels. You traveled with Diego to the United States and France. What was the impact of those trips on you?

FK: (Laughter) The effect was different, I think, to what Diego experienced in Europe. I mean, by the time I traveled, I had passed the ‘formation stage’ if you will. I was seeing the world through tinted eyes and in many ways those trips only reinforced what I already believed. When the Man at the Crossroads mural at the Rockefeller Center was removed because it portrayed Lenin it only served to strengthen my convictions, which as you know were communist.

NB: Indeed. Diego, where did that political drive come from? I presume it grew to full strength during your time in Europe.

DR: In some ways, traveling defines your own identity because you find it contrasting so strongly with what you are experiencing. It’s a way of tracing your own outline. Europe is certainly where I first felt the call of Mexico. And definitely, my social circles in Paris were ones in which I was allowed and encouraged to be political and bold and outspoken. A lot of my friends were Russian and through them I got a feel for the political energy in Russia at that time, which was of course Communist. I can’t deny their influence on my politics.

NB: Nevertheless, you refused the Soviet People's Commissar of Fine Arts, David Sternberg’s invite to join him in Russia.

DR: The call of Mexico was too strong Nick. I’d seen too much and wanted desperately to return home. To try and spread a little of what I had learned to my countrymen…

NB: Frida, we are going to change the subject slightly here, I am interested to know how you interpret Diego’s influence on your life. Some have said that your relationship with Diego was one of the defining features of you as a painter. How do you respond to that?

FK: I have to agree. (Laughs). I met Diego at a time when I was just starting out and he was already well established. I was a twenty year old woman, confronted by this enigma, this man who was so well known and respected and talked about… It was overwhelming.

NB: Fortunately though, you were talented enough though that Diego didn’t overshadow you.

FK: I was lucky. I was lucky in that our styles were so different and I was lucky that we both appealed to such different groups of people.

NB: Perhaps one of the defining things about your career Frida is that you’ve captured the imagination of a whole generation of women. You’re a lighthouse in some ways for the feminist movement.

FK: I think that’s probably because of my subject matter more than anything Nick. You know, so many of my paintings, I think about roughly half of them are self portraits and in my self portraits I really dealt head on with whatever I was facing. If I was in pain, I drew it, in literal ways I portrayed the emotions I was going through. And I guess hat many women have difficulty sometimes expressing that sort of thing. Often women are repressed within the family structure and I guess that my paintings resonate so strongly with women because they are representative of the struggles women face. I think my work too was empowered by my struggles as a human. It was empowered by my love with Diego which ran a fairly torrid course as I’m sure you know. It was empowered by my pain, the constant pain that I went through as a result of the bus crash. And ultimately, it was heavily tinged by the fact that I was unable to bear children. That must be the hardest thing a woman can face, to be unable to fulfill her motherly urges which Nick, you cannot understand unless you are a woman. It is just so strong that urge… I still ask the God why I was denied that right. But maybe, maybe my work would have not been so far-reaching without my struggles.

NB: You might be right Frida. You might be right. Diego, I don’t mean to cause offence, but there is a strong feeling that during your life one of your vices was women. How then did it affect you, seeing Frida’s work? Did you ever think hat sometimes you were the cause of the pain she was trying to express?

DR: I don’t want to linger on this Nick but let me just say that in our societies, we split work and family. And my work was as an artist so I only ever judged Frida’s work through the eyes of an artist and not through the eyes of her husband. And I only ever found genius in what she painted. Even when I first saw her work, I was truly blown away. I guess through history and through the Chinese whispers of time that Frida and I as artists have become the same as Frida and I as people. That’s entirely understandable…but neverthless, it might result in certain misconceptions that won't fit so comfortably to the jigsaw of truth.

NB: Just finally folks, I want to ask you both a quick question. Retrospectively, what do you feel were the three defining factors of your lives?

DR: Communism, that is, my relationship with Trotsky and everything that rippled out from that, my undying love for women and my murals which I wish I could have done more of (laughs).

NB: And you Frida?

FK: My love for Diego, the crippling pain I dealt with from the accident and my inability to have children.

NB: Thank you both so much for your time and your honesty.

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