Surrealist Doodle

Surrealist Doodle
This was used as the cover of Karawane in 2006 and I have included it in on a number of bags and postcards over the years. Someone on the subway asked me if it was a Miro. I was very flattered!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Review of Carole Maso's Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo

For the new year, let's revisit a great writer and a great painter:

Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo
by Carole Maso
2002, Counterpoint Press
170 pp.

Whenever I read Carole Maso, I start writing like her. And so it’s the words and impressions that linger, hovering above the page, insistent, repeating: Broken. Fragment. Meditation. Accident. Votive.

Composed in Maso’s unique poetic and fragmentary style, Beauty is Convulsive: The Passion of Frida Kahlo is many different things at once: a highly condensed biography of Kahlo’s life, a voice for her words, and Maso’s artistic “conversation” with Kahlo.

Beauty is Convulsive samples freely from biographies of Kahlo among Maso’s own writing and impressions. We’ve become used to this style from filmmakers and rap artists, but it is still unusual in books, where we’re accustomed to more singularity of voice, clear quotes and citations with footnotes and page numbers. Maso’s rendering of Frida Kahlo requires a certain suspension of disbelief, a willingness to experience Kahlo’s life as we abandon our usual literary constraints.

The book focuses on three defining elements of Frida Kahlo’s life. The first is a serious bus accident in her adolescence which had repercussions throughout her entire life, including chronic pain in her back, legs and feet, and an inability to have children. Her subsequent miscarriages make up another recurring theme. And the third is her marriage to fellow painter Diego Rivera.

Maso’s sometimes halting, disjointed writing style suggests a life lived in fits and starts, as in Votive: Child:

“Its birth certificate filled out in elegant scroll His mother was
Frieda [sic] Kahlo

take this sorrow: child

I would give you fistfuls of color
if only

I would have given you.

Because I wanted you come to me

the cupped butterfly, painted black.” (19)

One of the hallmarks of Carole Maso’s writing is repetition of words and phrases, and Votive features in the title, as well as in the text, of many of the pieces in this book. Votive: Vision, Votive: Courage, and Votive: Sorrow, are among the pieces that lead the reader on a meditation, a wish, a prayer on elements of Frida Kahlo’s life, almost as if you are walking the stations of the cross. In between the Votives and other pieces are short epigrammatic quotes from Frida herself, each entitled “Accident”, which serve as interludes:

“I am not sick. I am broken.
But I am happy as long as I can paint.” (65)

“Nevertheless I have the will to do many things
and I have never felt “disappointed by life”
as in Russian novels. (75)

In her choice and placement of text from her journals, Maso not only gives voice to Frida Kahlo, but also highlights Kahlo the poet, particularly when writing about Diego:

“From you to my hands I go all over your body, and I am with you a minute and I am with you a moment, and my blood is the miracle that travels in the veins of the air from my heart to yours. . . Diego, nothing is comparable to your hands and nothing is equal to the gold-green of your eyes. . . .”(34-35)

Lest you start to believe that Maso is merely a collage artist, arranging the words that Frida has written and what others have written about her, Maso intertwines her own meditations on the artist’s life and her work:

“She remembers when her mouth -- pressed to the ear -- to the
hum of the paint the blood:
don’t kiss anyone else
magenta, dark green, yellow
And she watches him.” (91)

Add to this quotes from others who knew Frida Kahlo, including Diego himself, Alejandro, who was involved in the accident with Frida, and notes from her doctors, and gradually, contemplatively, you get a picture of the woman and the artist, and the effect she has on those who wish to enter her world.

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