Using Kahlo’s whirlwind romance with the author’s father, Michel Petitjean, as a jumping-off point, The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris provides a portrait of the artist and an inside look at the history of one of her most powerful, enigmatic paintings.
As Petitjean seeks to better understand his father, Kahlo’s painting becomes his compass ... Petitjean’s meticulous research fills the gaps between his father’s anecdotes to render a compelling portrait of a young man exuberantly of his time: creatively charged, sexually free and politically engaged — someone not so unlike Kahlo herself ... Petitjean also captures the pop and fizz of artistic circles in Paris during the interwar years ... The Heart is a distinctively intimate undertaking, which is no small feat considering its well-known cast of characters. Yet in weaving together Kahlo’s biography with his quest to understand his father, Petitjean creates an unconventional and deeply personal biography
In fluid, sometimes idiosyncratic prose, Petitjean recreates Kahlo’s experiences. He draws from documented facts, but speculates as well ... Petitjean, a filmmaker and photographer, brings a visual acuity to his writing, vividly describing color and movement as well as artistic and architectural details. That pictorial sense also informs his insights into Kahlo and her work, which is the book’s impressive accomplishment ... Petitjean is at his best when he provides...illuminating analysis. He moves seamlessly from describing an intimate scene to discussing Kahlo’s art and its significance ... Predictably, Petitjean is not able to unlock all the secrets of his father’s heart. Even with all his thoughtful reconstructions and and research in libraries and archives, crucial questions remain. He tries to answer as many as best he can, but sometimes he must make sense of the unknowable...
The book paints an intimate, unforgettable portrait of a brief but transformative time in Kahlo’s life and of the turbulent beginnings of France’s Surrealist Movement, which claimed the iconic Mexican artist as one of its own. Behind it all lies one of Kahlo’s most powerful paintings—a tortured, confrontational work that speaks of pain and transformation, abandonment and betrayal, in a voice of quiet dignity.