Art is just as frequently produced in response to personal tragedies and triumphs encountered in life. Friday Kohl painted herself cracked open, hemorrhaging during a miscarriage, anesthetized on a hospital gurney, and weeping beside her own extracted heart. Painted in a bold, fantastical (some would argue surrealist) way, at first glance Kohl’s works could easily have come from a dream. However each piece of work is highly autobiographical, and the vibrant way in which Kohl paints contrasts sharply with the painful personal experiences she chooses to depict. I never paint dreams or nightmares. Paint my own reality. Have decided to analyses the ways in which Kohl’s own experiences shaped the creation of two pieces ‘The two Fridays’ (a painting that has been useful in my own project) and ‘the broken column’. When I first saw the painting The two Fridays’ I was most interested in the two women’s hearts linked by clasped hands and a single artery. In the context of my project I jumped to the conclusion that the two women were twins or sisters, represented by the joining of their flesh and blood.
This is an interesting example of how current projects can color the way in which we interpret artist’s work. Eave also always been intrigued by Kohl’s decision to paint herself with mono-brow and a shadow above her upper lip. It is a bold decision one which to me shows a refusal to conform to what is generally thought to be attractive by the masses. This is one of the few ways in which Friday Kohl is not influenced by the world around her, although perhaps when painting in the sass this influence of society on the individual to look a certain way was not as strong as it is today. As also struck by the drama captured within the piece; firstly because everything within it seems to Eave a deliberate symbolic significance gesture, hi-lighted by Kohl’s use of bold colors and outlines particularly on the dresses. Also the barren landscape under a stormy sky, the joined hands, sharp instrument and blood make a very sinister almost ritual like atmosphere. The sheer size of the painting also makes a considerable impression on the viewer. However after carrying out further research found that personal events had been far more influential upon the piece than I first realized.
The ‘twin’ figures are widely considered to represent the loved (symbolized by the full heart) and unloved open heart) halves of Friday, painted in response to the struggle of her failing marriage because of the infidelity of her husband. Riviera ironically said that: ‘Friday is the only example .. Of an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her paintings. ‘ He is however acknowledging that Kohl drew upon her reactions to experience to create. The different dresses are significant when addressing the impact of an artist’s background on their work.
The stiff white Victorian style dress represents German ancestry form ere father and the loose native Athenian-style dress to represent her indigenous background on her mother’s side. Also in the wider sense of Mexico, the painting is symbolic of colonization when European and American blood mixed. The scale, drama and nationalism of Kohl’s work could also be influenced by husband who painted vast murals on the walls of public buildings to traumatized the history of his native land. One Fresco depicts the struggles between indigenous Mexicans and Spanish colonizers in the National Palace in Mexico City ‘Ancient Mexico. Kohl’s nationalism is also evident in this particular piece with the inclusion of the Athenian dress. The heart was an important symbol in the art of the Aztec who Mexican Nationalists regarded as the last independent rulers of an indigenous political unit. ‘The Two Fridays’ represents both the artist personal struggles and the struggles of her homeland. Perhaps even more so than ‘The Two Fridays’ in ‘The Broken Column’ Kohl uses art to address her own personal demons. Again, the lone figure set against a barren landscape evoking a sense of total desolation and emotional isolation.
The tears and nakedness of the subject suggests vulnerability and most strikingly of all, pain is portrayed through harsh nails, a constraining brace and a broken column. As in ‘The Two Fridays’ every stroke of the brush has been laid down firmly to create a simple, clear image ensuring that the style Of painting does not distract from the message. By encasing objects with neat contours Kohl creates a feeling of confinement and harshness that reflects her physical imprisonment inside a crippled body.
Underlying all of these techniques and compositional decisions is perhaps the most pivotal moment in Kohl’s life- a streetcar accident that left her permanently disabled. ‘The Broken Column’ deals directly with the incident, but the physical and emotional pain it caused her is present in the harshness of all of her paintings. This is perhaps the most obvious way in which life events influence artists, in that her injuries and inability to move gave her the time to paint intensively: ‘I’ve done my paintings well, not quickly but patiently, and they have a message of pain in them. An artist’s work is not only influenced by events that affect them directly such s injuries and relationships, but also the political, social and cultural movements happening around them. In 1938 And© Breton said Friday’s work had ‘blossomed forth into pure surrealist and is described in Gardener’s Art through the Ages as ‘the most autobiographical of all artists concerned with surrealism… Who used the details of her own life as powerful symbols for the psychological pain of human existence. However surrealism draws upon the private world of the mind and disregards the limitations of society and reason found in their surroundings. Hearer (author of Friday: The Paintings) argues that Kohl’s paintings should not be affiliated with the movement because they were grounded in autobiography rather than fantasy. Although her paintings are firmly rooted in her own reality rather than in a dream, there is an undeniable ‘other-worldly’ quality to many of her pieces- for example The Wounded Deer’ in which Kohl draws her head on the body of a deer.
It seems to me that the majority of ‘surrealist’ elements of her paintings such as the column in The Broken Column’ are metaphorical exaggerations of reality seed to symbolize a message, and doing it in this way makes it more obvious for the viewer to pick up on. Friday Kohl addressed the ‘deepest layers of reality’ in her paintings distinguishing her work from that of other Surrealists by noting that it dealt not with dream worlds, but rather with her own lived reality. Through her paintings she recorded dreams, explored her identity and exorcised pain by projecting it out onto the alternate Friday of her paintings.