Our legendary cartoonist, my buddy Randy Enos, loves Mexican icon, Frida Kahlo.
My obsession with Frida Kahlo started when I turned the page of an Artforum magazine I was reading on the train to New York back in the early 80’s. It hit me with a jolt! Here was a black and white photo of a scowling woman slouched in a chair seated next to a pot bellied man holding a monkey in his arms! The man I recognized as Diego Rivera, the famous Mexican mural painter. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a kid. Due to his influence, I even painted a couple of murals in our house in the entrance way to my childhood attic studio. Alas, they are no longer there. I recently was alerted, by my niece, Kerry, to a real estate website that showed our old re-modeled home for sale … no murals were to be seen in the entrance way to what now is an attic guest room.
The woman in the photo, apparently Diego’s wife, was the focus of my attention (which was soon to become an obsession). She had on a decorative blouse covered over by a shawl. She had large heavy earrings. Her eyebrows grew together in one line across her brow and she had a moustache! She was gazing directly at the camera. Diego meanwhile was looking askance at the monkey, who I later learned was named Caimito de Guayabal.
In the weeks and months that followed, I couldn’t get her image out of my head. I cut the picture out of the magazine and framed it to hang on my studio wall. Then, I proceeded to try to track down information on this apparition. I had very little luck. I did find out that she was indeed Diego’s wife. I saw somewhere that there was film of her with Diego. I searched for that footage. I had to see this woman in movement … in action. What was she like? I had no luck whatsoever in finding any movies of her.
Then in 1985, Hayden Herrera’s book, “Frida” was published and the smoke cleared. It informed the world about Frida Kahlo. The big thick book answered all my questions. It told about her terrible childhood accident when she was impaled through the groin when a trolly hit her school bus in Mexico City. She spent the rest of her life mostly corseted up or bed- ridden, going in and out of surgery for her injured spine. There were a few times of mobility when she could walk around and even make visits to the U.S. when Diego was painting murals in Detroit, New York and California. She was an exotic creature wearing long Mexican folk dresses (which helped to hide her polio-withered right leg) and many rings, bracelets and heavy looking necklaces. On the walls of her bedroom hung the pictures of her heroes Marx, Mao, Lenin and Stalin. She had an affair with Trotsky when he escaped from Stalin and lived with the Riveras in Coyoacan, a suburb of Mexico City. She flitted in and out of the Communist Party switching allegiances from one faction to the other from time to time along with Diego. When she died, there was an unfinished portrait of Stalin on her easel which I saw when I visited her famous “blue house” in Coyoacan. She loved animals and had many hairless dogs, tiny deer, parrots and monkeys. She led a fabulous bohemian life creating endless self portraits and cultivating a small cadre of students which were affectionately known as Los Fridos. She was kind and loving and passionate and I was in love with her … and still am.
SO, lots of my friends, family and fellow cartoonists give and send me Frida stuff. I have her images all over the house and 36 pictures of her in my studio alone. I have tee shirts with her picture on them, key fobs, various pins, sticky notes, shopping bags (3), a candle, postage stamps, greeting cards, matchbooks, and on and on and on. Almost all of them have been given to me by friends who feel the need to feed my obsession. I even have an earring which is a little “hand” that matches the earrings that Picasso once gave her.
Of course I’ve made pictures of her and I’ve met her biographer, Hayden, and I’ve collected 16 books on her including her cookbook, her diary, a book of her personal photos, her sketchbook, many biographies and so forth. She had a lot of bed time so she propped up a little easel and mirror and painted more self portraits than probably any other artist that ever lived. She did NOT paint flattering pictures of herself but rather pictures of her sorrow, her ailments, her passion. She had a mirror on the canopy of her bed so she could study her predicament from that angle. The Surrealists loved her and invited her to Paris to exhibit with them. She found most of them to be insufferable snobs and bores.
My wife and I visited her house (now a Frida Kahlo museum) in Coyoacan and I swiped some blue chips of paint that had peeled off the house and fallen in her beautiful garden to put in a frame with one of her pictures in my studio. I picked up some small pieces of lava rock also to make into an earring for myself. See what I mean about obsession?
I’m posting here my favorite photo of her with beads in her mouth, the original photo I saw in Artforum and a large color linocut I made (that’s me on her shoulder as her favorite monkey, Fulang- Chang). Also, a small linocut of her with Diego. I gave a print of this to Hayden Herrera.
I was at a party once, with a bunch of lefties, years ago … I remember my friend, the cartoonist Roy Doty, was there and also an old woman who actually had known Frida. Unfortunately, by the time I found this out, she was on her way out the door leaving the party.
Diego once said that everybody who meets Frida falls in love with her.
WELL … evidently, you didn’t even have to meet her.
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Read many more of Randy’s cartooning memories: