It’s intriguing to encounter an artist in the act of becoming herself, and in Frida in America, Celia Stahr aims to do just that, returning us to Kahlo’s early days in San Francisco, New York and Detroit in the 1930s ... Stahr’s chronicle of Kahlo’s breakthrough includes vivid descriptions of the scenes that inspired her, along with many pages in which the narrative is suspended while she details her subject’s use of Mexican motifs, fantastic imagery and arcane formulas. Comparisons of Kahlo’s suffering to that of John the Baptist or Jesus may strike those other than Frida fans as something of a reach. For the broader dimensions of her traumatic life and fierce courage, readers might turn to Hayden Herrera’s 1983 biography, Frida, published before Fridamania attained its current frenzy — a phenomenon owing in no small part to her art’s congruence with current ideas about gender politics and cultural identity.
Stahr doubles down on feminist issues while she expresses lush appreciation of Frida’s flamboyance, her spectacular attire, her rising celebrity, her exceptional talent. There are interesting contrasts, both cogent and unintended. Kahlo’s art was direct and ambiguous, erotic and androgynous, surrealist and mythic. Stahr describes her charismatic subject in lackluster terms ... This volume itself is nicely designed and decorated with animist devices, though sparsely illustrated—sadly for a book about an artist and her art. Stahr’s text compensates with detailed descriptions of particular pictures, but the eight pages of illustrations leave a Kahlo fan hungry for more.
Stahr establishes the foundation of Kahlo’s aesthetics––her extensive reading, work with her photographer father, and fascination with nature’s interconnectivity, the Aztec embrace of duality, and alchemy––then elucidates the profound impact her sojourns in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York had on the arc of her creativity. By mining Kahlo’s letters and the invaluable diary of her friend, artist Lucienne Bloch, Stahr establishes remarkably precise and incisive contexts for many of Kahlo’s most shocking and revolutionary works, while also chronicling her complex relationships, including her involvement with Georgia O’Keeffe. Stahr brings new clarity to Kahlo’s life and genius for creating audacious autobiographical tableaux which pose resounding questions about history, justice, gender, spirituality, and freedom.
Stahr...captures Frida Kahlo...in all her ambiguity at age 23, when she embarked on her first American tour with her new husband, famous muralist Diego Rivera ... The author’s deep study of Kahlo’s symbolic layering is highly informative, though some of the detail may be overwhelming for readers not versed in art history ... The first major biography since Hayden Herrera’s 1983 work presents the artist in all her ferocious complexity.
Stahr, art professor at University of San Francisco, examines the creative evolution of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo during her time in America in this insightful debut ... Featuring meticulous research and elegant turns of phrase, Stahr’s engrossing account provides scholarly though accessible analysis for both feminists and art lovers.