Partially an expression of admiration for the work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, this piece was created as a painted letter which I addressed to her. It felt appropriate to make the work in this form due to the often very personal and lyrical themes within her work.
The body of the letter, i.e. the painting itself, was created with Kahlo’s ’Self-portrait with cropped hair’ (1940 MoMA) in mind. I chose to work within a very similar scale to the painting in question when viewed unframed, utilising similar compositional elements. In both paintings a female figure sits centre stage on a straight-backed chair, in costume, with hair being a central theme.
Created after the artist’s divorce from her husband Diego Rivera, Kahlo depicted herself dressed in a man’s suit, her long hair cropped and strewn about her on the floor. This was an action which I always interpreted as being both of independence and loss. In donning a suit Frida ultimately divested herself of her other implied costumes and roles.
Having had very long hair in the past I was interested in reversing the work. Symbolically ‘growing’ out my own shortly cropped hair so that it became once again a heavyweight down my back. Wearing a confining and luminous red dress. Red attracts the eye but it can also be a very violent colour. For me, it seems to be a very literal colour of womanhood and our cyclical biology that is denoted by red.
Where Kahlo chose a costume that symbolically liberated her from her previous gendered role, I chose one which I felt reflected the gendered assumptions I had inherited, as had the women who preceded me. In doing so, I wanted to present the limits of these different costumes and how inadequately they define the complex human beings who inhabit them.
‘A liminal space’
‘a liminal space’ is that undefinable threshold, when you have left something behind but have yet to become something else.
This work is a liminal space in the following ways. Firstly, as with all my works on copper, the very process I developed in creating these pieces exists on the threshold; waiting for the reaction of pigments with the copper support to stabilise and set at a point slightly beyond my control. Secondly, the painting itself shifts between the perception of a surface and an impossible ‘space’ within. Thirdly, the subject of the painting exists between an interior space with hard wooden floors and an organic one; between a real space and an impossible one, without gravity. We may see a chair at first because we remember what a body being held by one looks like. But it is absent because the work is not only the representation of a tangible body in real space and time, but also it's invisible self, manifested to overlay the real.
From this we can see that the invisible self is also on the cusp of different definable states: precariously balanced somewhere between sitting, standing and falling; impossibly still within the many moving forces that surround her. In part this was a response to the shifts occurring within my larger practice. The resulting uncertainty and energy which built like a charge within me, an invisible, immutable call to action. However, on a deeper level this painting was an attempt to explore the liminal space which depression itself generates when it muddles the experience of time and place. In this state events can seem to run into each other in a confusion of fragmented memories. The result is a loss of the stable narratives from which we define who we are and how we relate/(are tethered) to the world.