Luckily the summer holidays are over. Ninety-five per cent of my holiday time consisted of scrubbing, painting and re-painting and tidying up: you can easily picture it. At the end of it, we had made our house like new, not only the house but also the garden, the garage and the driveway. But there were some hard moments.
We went on holiday in turns, as usual, as someone of us had to stay at home with my autistic daughter Valentina. I had a week in Italy, where I finally had a forced rest at my parents’ place. Though I did have my fun when I started my job in the south. After two days of induction, we had an unusual party altogether (about eighty teachers) in central London (London Bridge to Blackfriars) on pedal buses, drinking, singing, cheering on...and pedalling. Passers-by and cars stopped to take pictures of our crazy bunch: it was exhilarating. The following week we started the proper, hard work with students (which I really enjoy) and paperwork (which I don’t always enjoy but it needs to be done).
All in my next articles.
Decorating and scrubbing your own house can be a rewarding pastime. Last Easter holidays we started repainting walls, ceilings and doors. But when it was time to go back to work, there was still a lot to be done. We happily postponed it until the long summer holidays, when the warm weather allows you to work outside as well. And the day came.
I stuck to my schedule, working mostly inside the house: cleaning the windows, scrubbing the bathrooms and the kitchen, repainting the radiators and front door. It took longer than I thought and absorbed all my energies day after day. When I stepped outside on a gorgeous sunny day I noticed that I had neglected the garden, the garage was in a mess and the timbers which connect the walls and the fascia of the roof (I think the right word is soffit) weren’t white any more. I thought, insanely, it was a must-do job. I sweated in the sun for days, dreaming of stretching out on a sunbed in the back garden with nothing to do or worry about, a cold drink in one hand and a good book in the other. But I also yearned to finish the job and bring the timbers back to their immaculate condition. In a way (an incomprehensible way, looking back) it was fun, and tremendously rewarding. At the end of the tour de force the front door had a nice grey-green colour (‘green glade’ to be precise), the new door number was shining on a white gloss background, the timbers under the roof were finally white and the garage was tidied up. It was a revelation, the potential of my house surfacing.
While I was away for a week in Italy my husband did even better. He completed repainting the walls and ceilings inside, painted the garage floor and the summer house (‘wild thyme’ this time, an olive green shade), and, wonder of wonders, rubbed the tarmac, which became an unexpected sand colour instead of mossy brown. He was pretty exhausted, I must say, but the house was at its best.
In July I managed to escape the work for a few days. I took a day in Oxford for an open day with my third son, a day in Glasgow and two days in London (in August) with my daughter to visit exhibitions.
At the beginning of July I followed my son to his open day in Oxford. It was an excuse to see Oxford again and to visit the colleges. We also attended a lecture in the physics department at the end of the day but I can’t remember what it was about. It’s likely I dozed off for a while. We went mainly from one college to the other, taking advantage of the refreshments (it was a hot day) and following the students who kindly volunteered to be our guides. I must say it was enchanting. Everything was so beautiful, not only the ancient buildings with their unique architecture but also the walled gardens perfectly kept, the libraries, some of them with precious engraved furniture, and the Halls. It is a world apart, different from all the other universities I visited previously with my children. It’s a whole town dedicated to study and culture. Simply wonderful.
In Glasgow I visited Pollok Park with my daughter. We went to the Burrell collection and Pollok House. The Burrell collection is in a new building that both respects the ancient artefacts and works of art that it displays (the front entrance looks like a facade of a Romanic church) and incorporates the park that surrounds it, thanks to glass walls and roofs. There are mainly Medieval and Renaissance pieces, but also Chinese and Islamic art and French paintings, which William Burrell, a shipping magnate, collected throughout his life and donated to Glasgow. Unfortunately the first floor, which displayed most of the paintings, was closed. We enjoyed the ground floor with sculptures by Rodin, the reconstruction of 15th century rooms and embroidered textiles.
The park itself is worth seeing, with its huge trees, endless lawns and ginger cows with thick fringes and long horns (Highland cattle, I understood). The day we went to visit, it was full of people having picnics, walking dogs, cycling or strolling around.
The other important building on the site is Pollok House, a mansion with striking Italian style gardens which belonged to the Maxwell family. The entrance, displaying Roman style marble busts, displays double stairs leading to the upper floor. The elegant corridors and rooms with classical stuccos and ionic columns are decorated with a large collection of Spanish paintings. It’s a bit weird to see portraits of the emperor Charles V or Phillip II in a Scottish house and hearing the story of a Spanish dynasty ending in madness. Unfortunately the Lady in a fur wrap by El Greco wasn’t there, probably lent to some exhibition elsewhere, but I could admire the portrait of Lady Stirling Maxwell by Sir James Guthrie. She is seen from the back reading a book (which is pretty unusual in portraits of aristocrats, but apparently she was very shy), her yellow and ochre silk gown, with its unfinished folds, spilling across the bottom of the picture. In the smoking room I was surprised to find a series of William Blake’s paintings, minutely detailed, almost a decoration, similar to some 15th century Italian paintings (just think of the Hunt by Paolo Uccello). We took pictures of the amazing garden and headed back home.
When I go to London I always plan my visit carefully: there is so much going on, that I need to know what the priorities are. We had only two days and five or six exhibitions I was interested in and I was dying to go to the theatre.
It was a well deserved holiday after all the scrubbing, sanding, painting and re-painting at home. The first day we managed to go to two exhibitions (Making colours at the National Gallery and Wedding Dresses at V&A) as well as shopping in Oxford Street.
My daughter wasn’t happy to go to the theatre, though, and we had forgotten to book in advance. I’d have liked to have seen Matilda or The Phantom of the Opera but both were sold out. Eventually I managed to get two tickets for the Mousetrap. It was good: we enjoyed it and my daughter, in the end, said it was a great idea to have a night out. When the curtains came down the actors made the audience promise to not reveal the ‘trap’ to anyone. I can only say it was an unexpected ending. Probably most of the audience kept the secret, as the play has been performed for about forty years.
Our first exhibition in the list was at V&A: wedding dresses. Gorgeous, beautiful things, the wording explaining social habits and fashion trends in a clear and captivating way. Apparently dressing in wedding white was not a tradition (as it is now all over the world) till Queen Victoria wore a white gown for her wedding in 1840. One reason was that women usually used their dresses after the wedding: a white dress wouldn’t be appropriate in everyday life. In 1933 the aristocrat Margaret Whigham Hartnell wore a wedding gown made for the occasion and never wore it afterwards. Tulle veils started only in the 1830s, expensive lace or more approachable caps and bonnets having previously been worn instead. As marriages were celebrated mostly in churches, removable sleeves or short cloaks were added to strapless gowns to cover upper arms and deep cleavages. This was in the past. Contemporary brides rarely care. There were all kinds of dresses and colours, even black, violet, purple, red and blue. Some dresses were inspired by Chinese, Indian or African traditional clothes. My favourite ones were light muslin dresses (early 19th century). They looked comfortable, easy to wear and charming. Certainly better than the terrible corsets and crinolines that preceded and followed it. Here attached, and I can’t help showing it off, is my wedding dress. It was very simple, no corset included. I loved it and my husband and I look so young and slim...twenty-two years ago.
At the V&A shop we bought some cards and two booklets, as all the rest was incredibly expensive, though some items were ‘on sale’. My daughter bought a card saying: ‘I wish my boyfriend was dirty like your policies’. Why should you wish for a dirty boyfriend, I wondered. She explained the pun over and over but I couldn't get the joke. It must be the generation gap!
Making Colour at the National Gallery was engrossing. It explained the development of pigments throughout time: the way past artists mixed ground pigment with yolk or oils and the skills painters acquired in combining colours. The most interesting fact was that some colours changed, the pigment deteriorating, fading or becoming another colour, usually darker, especially when painters used cheap material. Blue could become grey, some greens turning brown, yellow fading, purple becoming blue and silver becoming dark brown (e.g. the armourers in the three Battles by Paolo Uccello at the National Gallery, Louvre and Uffizi). Some colours maintained the original shade such as the blue from lapis lazuli, which was a very expensive semi-precious stone transported from Afghanistan via the silk road. Its colour is impressive, the blue shade so bright and intense you would like to dive into it. The reds came from plants and animals (mainly insects), their hues different one from the other. The range goes from an orange hue to deep scarlet.
In conclusion, some of the pictures we look at today (e.g. Renaissance, Dutch or 18th century pictures) had very different colours when they were painted, the original colours fading or changing quickly, the painting becoming of necessity duller. I wonder what will happen to the chemical colours artists use today: will the shades fade in two or three hundred years? I won’t be there to judge.
In London we visited the Mall Galleries, Matisse Cut-Outs and the Malevich Exhibition at the Tate Modern.
The Mall Galleries (www.mallgalleries.org.uk/) had some beautiful watercolours on display. I loved David Poxom’s pieces (depicting a door and a window), both solid, simple in choice of subject and elaborate in technique and style. The layering of paint and attention to detail made them look like the complex decoration of some important palace. There was also a painting by Shirley Trevena, an artist we often referred to during my last art course. Her way of working is relaxed but focussed: she is able to keep her mind open to new suggestions around her yet master the technique of producing unique works. I like her almost cubist way of looking at objects from different sides; finding the right space in the picture to obtain a well balanced composition which seems also ‘natural’ and ‘spontaneous’. The piece at the Mall Galleries wasn’t particularly colourful, but most of her work is so bright and joyful that it communicates the essence of spring.
The Matisse Cut-outs were absolutely enchanting. He started sculpting with scissors after a difficult operation that saved him from abdominal cancer but left him very weak and incapable of standing upright for long and, consequently, painting. He was seventy-one and spent the rest of his life in a bed or wheelchair. But resurgence came from otherwise sad circumstances. He had already used shapes cut from coloured paper to experiment with different compositions on a canvas, but now he was obliged to use only scissors to express his vision. He never used readymade paper but instead asked his assistant to paint white paper with gouache in the shades he chose (around seventy-seven shades of coloured papers were on display showing how many different kinds of greens, yellows, oranges, reds, pinks and purples he used). Looking at them you can see brush marks and varied paint-drying techniques, leaving traces of diluted pigment and tiny blank spaces. This gives texture to his work or, as he said, ‘sensitivity’, which is lost in print. In the video clip showing Matisse cutting paper, I could clearly see how inspired he was in this creative act. He seems in a trance, lost in his dreams, like a child playing with a favourite toy, blissful in his own world.
The first finished product of this incredible experiment was Jazz, an illustrated book inspired by legends or myths (Icarus), circus and theatre. Matisse’s text is handwritten and, he said, accompanies the images. It is often unrelated to the images and the main themes are love and the total freedom of the artist.
Another work, Oceania, started from a casual gesture: creating a shape to cover a spot in the wall which irritated him. Then he carried on cutting out shapes and asked his assistant to pin them on the wall too. He took inspiration from memories of his earlier voyages to exotic lands.
In some compositions he layers paper shapes over coloured backgrounds, strikingly contrasting them: yellow on scarlet, red on black, vermillion and cobalt on orange, purple on orange. The influence of Mediterranean light and bright, southern colours is obvious.
At the Tate there were also examples of his work: the Domenican Chapel in Vence and the famous Blue Nudes, They are absolute masterpieces. The women's silhouettes are almost alive: still, sensual and captured in classical postures. The last piece, Escargot (snail), is the final demonstration of Matisse’s sense of colour: a bright adieu to the visitor. It was a marvellous experience.
Malevich's world is totally different. His vision started with a sort of Expressionism (with influences of Delaunay and Futurism) in the use of colours, reaching a strictly essential abstraction during the Russian revolution and ending with the famous Black Square. Everything beforehand is erased in the hope of building something new, different and maybe better. No joy, no Mediterranean light, only harsh commitment: a stark black square. It is meaningful, of course, but fundamentally empty.
Malevich painted several versions of the black square from 1915 on, but unfortunately the paint is cracking in all of them. The deterioration may be interpreted in a symbolic way, but it’s pretty easy to paint a black square on canvas and anyone can do it!.
In a dark room there was also the projection of the film Victory over the Sun, an example of a futurist opera in which Malevich collaborated in designing the costumes and scenery. The story, I read in the captions, is about a ‘strong man of the future who captures the sun [symbol of power and life], ushering in a new era in which time itself has been abolished’. The libretto was by Aleksei Kruchenykh, written in the deliberately unintelligible zaum and recited with deadpan incantation. Other works by Malevich recall Kandinsky but with less freedom in shape and colour.
When the ‘strong man’ (Stalin) finally rose, disappointment was hard to bear. Malevich painted less and less. One of his works of this period, a big head of a peasant in red and white, recalls a watchful and powerful Big Brother. Malevich was arrested and some of his work destroyed. In 1935 he died of cancer and his pictures disappeared. Some of his paintings reappeared only after the 1950s and the Black Square wasn’t exhibited till the 1980s. Probably the Black Square, for Stalin, was the black spot in Treasure Island.
When comparing Malevich to Matisse, I can say that both artists used monotone or a limited colour range. Matisse chose colours using his imagination to re-invent reality, producing new shapes and creating an inspired, dreamlike world. Both artists represented their time, comment on it, give it their inspiring, challenging visions or solutions: dreams, life and imagination in Matisse and a totally new, blank but unrealistic beginning in Malevich.
At the bookshop I bought books on Matisse and some graphic guides on sale: Modernism, Post-modernism, Marxism and Capitalism.
By the time I set off on my holidays, I was so exhausted that at Manchester Airport I went to the wrong terminal. I even started queuing for the check in! Luckily a clever guy was going around asking people if there was someone not flying with Ryan Air and if so I needed to go to Terminal 1. It was only ten minutes walk but I would certainly have missed my flight if I hadn’t been advised on time. Besides there was a long queue at security control which delayed the whole thing even more.
In Rome it was so warm and I was so tired that I couldn’t wait to reach my parents’ house. It was very good to be with them again, to see my sister and her family waiting for me at my parents’. We had a good chat updating each other on family news and a great dinner altogether. She is working hard for her school. I told her I was going to start a new job soon.
I found my parents pretty well though slowing down in their activities, forgetting things now and then but perfectly capable of looking after themselves. They have their routines and little obsessions like everybody else. Of course they were overjoyed to see me, have the opportunity to spend a bit of time with me, share their life and ideas and go out together (especially my mum).
I slept a lot at first, then read a bit and spent time with them watching TV, mainly DVDs of old Italian films or recorded comedies by Eduardo De Filippo and Pirandello. The films dated back to their youth, the 40s and 50s, with actors like Totò, Alberto Sordi and Aldo Fabrizi. It was another world, depicting simple stories of love and friendship without major problems or complexities and with happy endings which meant, inevitably, marriage. Portrayed was an apparently easy society whose essential aim was to forget the war. I must say the actors were excellent.
It was hot in Rome but still bearable compared to a few years ago when I couldn’t sleep at night and sweated the whole day just staying still. Mosquitoes were quite annoying especially in the afternoon and evening. I used all kind of creams to prevent their bites or stop the itching afterwards but it was a lost battle. I found out that if you resist scratching for at least half an hour it stops itching. The hard bit is to hang on.
My parents took me to a big supermarket for their weekly shopping, which is one of the rare occasions they go out. Though I am perfectly adapted to my Anglo-Italian food habits, I couldn’t help my mouth watering at the sight of so many kinds of fresh egg pasta, different hams and salamis, biscuits I can’t find in England, like ferratelle, taralli, ciambelline al vino...I finally bought a good supply to bring back home.
I also tried out some new recipes with my mum. It was a way to have fun and to spend time with her. My dad helped me to browse through books and DVDs as I needed ideas for my new teaching job, an exciting experience I was looking forward to starting. I knew there was a good selection of Italian and foreign authors in my father’s bookshelves and cupboards, which I used to search when I was young, looking for more and more to read. It was like going back in time when I revisited old authors: Hemingway, Pirandello, Zola, Roth, Pavese, Natalia Ginzburg, Oriana Fallaci, Moravia, Sibilla Aleramo and Grazia Deledda. The books were old, dusty books whose pages came out, the covers yellowing, though the emotions I’d felt a long time ago came to my mind fresh, alive and precious like all powerful memories.
My mother gave me some old photos and a diary she’d been keeping since I was born. She’d written down my height and weight from babyhood to starting primary school, all the preparations for my birth, the names they chose, the vaccinations, presents I received, illnesses, schools I attended, clothes I wore, my behaviour, my first drawing, the poems I learned by heart and she kept some photos. It must have been a massive task. She made me write a few notes here and there when I was in middle school,. They brought me down to earth. Attached is a photo taken when I was at nursery school from my mother’s diary, I look cheeky indeed. She also gave me some pagelle (reports) from primary and middle schools. My linguistic and artistic tendencies were manifest right from the start. Later on, Latin was my big problem, I don’t regret having dropped it.
I had time to go around Rome with my mum by bus. Surprisingly we only ever waited five minutes for a bus and they were air conditioned. Besides we always found empty seats, maybe due to the fact that it was August and most people were on holiday and out of town. I bought presents for my children (stylish shirts for the boys and perfumes for the girls and girlfriends). I also managed to convince my dad, who rarely goes out, to come with us to an exhibition.
We went to Villa Torlonia, a park in via Nomentana not far from where my parents live. The Villa belonged to powerful Roman families, first to the Pamphili then to the Colonna and finally to the Torlonia. It has interesting buildings which in the past were restored by the architect Giuseppe Valadier. He gave them an elegant, classical outline and reorganized the garden with paths and fountains. My dad was just complaining that I was pushing them too much when he realized that the whole thing was very interesting and enjoyable.
The most important parts you can visit are: Casino dei Principi (House of Princes) with its temporary exhibitions, Casino Nobile (Noble House) with the museum, and Casina delle Civette (House of Owls). There are also Old and New Stables, Jewish catacombs, the Lemon House, the Medieval House and the Red House. In 1925 Mussolini lived there with his family till 1943.
The Casino Nobile is beautifully restored with interesting frescoes and remarkable stuccos, especially on the ground floor. Going upstairs I noticed an elegant detail: the plaster patterns on the ceilings mirrored the patterns of the marble floor. On the first and second floors there is a collection of paintings of Scuola Romana, paintings from the 40s to the 90s by pretty famous painters who worked in Rome before and after the war, like Turcato, Greco, Mazzullo, Guttuso, Mafei, Matta, Cagli, Burri and Fausto Pirandello. It’s called ‘realismo magico’ (magical realism), dedicated to blending great painting skills, profound links with Rome, experimentation of new approaches and opposition to Fascism. That’s why the painters chose intimate, homely subjects and hidden corners for their pictures. It was engrossing. Strangely there weren’t many people around, only a few tourists. I know that in Rome there are so many major monuments and museums to see that people don’t take into account a place like Villa Torlonia. They should. It’s definitely worth visiting.
We also went to Casino dei Principi, hosting an exhibition of Antonio Paschetto, a famous graphic artist and decorator who worked in the first half of 20th century. He is not so well known to the general public but his work is definitely inspiring. He came from the north of Italy and was Waldenese. His work was strongly influenced by W. Morris, A. Beardsley and C.R. Mackintosh. He decorated mostly the interiors of public buildings, villas, restaurants and churches (e.g. Baptist and Methodist churches in Rome). He also made stamps, posters, furniture, pottery and tapestries with the help of his wife, Italia Angelucci. He saw art as a privileged way to spread beauty and culture at all levels and to apply it to everyday objects. He even made advertisements for Peroni, winter sports, gardening and Italian products in general.
Looking at his work at the exhibition, I realized he also created the emblem of the Italian Republic in 1946, which is on every official document and Italian passport to this day. It contains the Italian star in the centre (representing Venus, who guided Aeneas to Italy according to the legend), on the background there is a wheel that symbolises work and progress and it is framed by two branches: olive (peace) and oak (strength). It was an emblem of hope for a peaceful and hard-working future.
His most beautiful works are the ink and watercolour sketches for stained glass windows whose final realization I could see in the Casina delle Civette. This is a unique building which was originally a Swiss cabin, or rustic chalet. Giovanni Torlonia liked to live there so much that he transformed it, adding annexes and altering parts. The final result is complex, multi-faceted, incredibly attractive and mysterious. From outside it looks like a neo-something, a mixture of medieval, rustic, Renaissance and vaguely northern style. Inside it there is a special charm in its narrow corridors, wooden stairs and floors and variably sized rooms, all decorated with astonishing glass windows (pictures are attached). Simply beautiful! The emblem of the owl is recurrent, probably hinting to Giovanni Torlonia’s passion for esoterism. You find owls on stained glass, capitols, stuccos and tiles. It is so intimate, elegant and fascinating that it’s said he preferred this small house to his rich palaces. On the front door is his motto: wisdom and solitude.
It took four years to refurbish the Casina delle Civette after it was completely abandoned for more than forty years (I remember it fenced and decaying when I used to stroll in the park with school friends in my teenage years). Now it’s really worth visiting. My favourite glass pieces, apart from the owls, were the balcony of the roses, the peacocks and the room of the swallows, all lovely. No doubt I’ll go back there with my daughter at Christmas.
It was hot in Rome last summer but there were floods in the north of Italy. The crazy weather affected agricultural production and the tourist season. Some people went to seaside resorts in July and it was too cold to go to the beach. Unbelievable in Italy! For my parents, who spent the summer in Rome, it was heavenly compared to a ‘normal’ Italian summer.
Looking for places in Rome I hadn’t already seen, I opted for the Ara Pacis museum in Lungo Tevere. The Ara Pacis Augustae is an altar built between 13 and 9 BC in honour of the goddess Pax (peace) to celebrate the end of wars and the beginning of a peaceful time under the emperor Augustus. The Romans could finally enjoy the wealth accumulated and maintained during the expansion of the empire.
The monument has a simple structure but is richly sculpted. It conveys a vision of a civil religion deeply rooted in the power and supremacy of Rome. The friezes on its external walls show members of the imperial circle in procession, the myth of the founding of Rome and a seated female figure, probably representing Peace or the Earth (Tellus). They are symbolic figures, meant to reinforce the universal mission of Rome and its power based on military prominence, fertility (the female figure) and civic superiority over the subjected populations. This ideology was often emulated in the following centuries by kings and emperors all over Europe.
The lower part was my favourite. It has beautiful friezes, spiralling out from a central acanthus to represent unity and multiplicity, richness and variety together with order. A natural, organic movement springing from one source: Rome. A great variety of plants are engraved in the spirals: grapes, lilies, laurels, bellflowers, water lilies and many others which were originally brightly coloured but are still beautiful in the creams and greys of the marble. They represented the cyclical return of the reign of Augustus: the Roman empire should have been eternal. They were also compared to fractals, something spontaneous and apparently confused but suggesting specific, underlying organization. On the inside walls there are festoons, attached to alternate ox-skulls which strongly reminded me of Georgia O’Keeffe’s skulls.
An exhibition on the ground floor highlighted how Augustus' legacy is often present in European kings’ and emperors’ propaganda. Some examples are: Charlemagne, Frederick II Hohenzollern, Cola di Rienzo, Ivan II the Terrible, Elizabeth I and Charles V. Even the discovery of America was compared to the Augustan golden, peaceful era. Augustus and Gens Julia claimed to be descended from Aeneas (again a legend, found all over Europe). Welsh rulers claimed to be descended from Brutus, a relative of Aeneas, and the Forum and Ara Pacis erected in Rome were to establish and make permanent its authority. The Aeneid by Virgilio is the other, paramount pillar supporting this ideology. In the Aeneid it is stated that the Roman mission was to exercise power with peaceful rule conveniently interpreted as ‘forgive the populations that surrender and expose those who stand proud’. The exhibition ended with pieces of music linked to the Aeneid, like Dido and Aeneas by Purcell and Lulli, then Francesco Gasperini, Handel, Mahler and others.
The last exhibition I visited during the summer was of Frida Kahlo's work at the Scuderie del Quirinale. I was there with a friend of mine, an art enthusiast as much as I am. We spent almost two hours at the exhibition. It was so well planned, exploring Frida Kahlo’s career from beginning to end. Nevertheless I expected to see more of her most famous pictures, like the Little Deer and What the Water gave Me, but it had some pictures by Diego Rivera as well, her lover, husband, teacher and master. It was a good opportunity to compare their works. After reading the poetry collection by Pascale Petit (What the Water gave Me) inspired by Frida Kahlo’s work the pictures at the exhibition spoke loudly to me.
She mastered painting techniques more and more effectively throughout her life, producing original work at the same time. The exuberant colours together with an almost trompe-l’oeil technique make her pictures rich and sensual. The crowded earlier scenes reveal political and social comment, but the most interesting pieces are undoubtedly the portraits, especially the self-portraits. The androgynous face, with its full red lips, continuous thick eyebrow (Rivera called it ‘the wings of a black seagull’), hinted moustache and complex hairdo, conveys all her strength, ambition and deep suffering (she had had a bad accident as a teenager and survived against all odds but had physical problems all her life). An underlying, proud impotence also emerges in the self-portraits. Her great talent couldn’t make her as visible as male painters like Rivera. Some portraits reveal this lack of freedom, for example the self-portrait with the crown of thorns around her neck and the humming bird hanging from it, or that of a broken column, probably representing her accident, where a column passes through her body and nails pierce her skin.
The constant presence of death in life (in her own life, not only in the accident and in her many disabilities, but also in her abortions and in the unstable relationship with Diego) and of the violence every woman has to suffer, are recurrent themes (e.g. My birth and Unos cuantos piquetidos). However, she also demonstrates an untamed, unconventional personality in her love life, expressed in surreal paintings like The flying bed.
Later in life, in her maturity both as an artist and as a person, she transforms herself into a sort of saint, a goddess, to re-establish her charm and complete her legend. Her wild passion for life, the stress of her disabilities, her uncompromising independence and her projected image all contribute to create the character. This is very clear in the photos and in some of the portraits. She is over-decorated, ornate and strikingly colourful, similar to some religious statues of Madonna covered in jewels and precious clothes. The transformation is of a clever and talented woman who, to be believable and to be accepted, needs to be part of a tradition. A woman can be only a mother, a goddess/saint/witch or a prostitute. So she satisfies a cannibalistic and voyeuristic public which feeds on new but comprehensible imagery and easily destroys its idols.
Her work can be considered baroque, sometimes overloaded but always skillful, tremendously daring and interesting. Her portraits and still lives are vibrant, standing out from the canvas with the power of their tones and masterly painted details. They are never flat, predictable or boring. They are the work of a great master.