Portrait of Diego

Museo Dolores Olmedo

Frida Kahlo wrote this text for the catalog of the exhibition "Diego Rivera, 50 Years of Artistic Work," held at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in 1949.

I warn you that this portrait of Diego will be painted with colors with which I am unfamiliar: words, and for this reason it will be poor; besides, I love Diego in such a way that I cannot be a "spectator" in his life, but part of it, so—perhaps—I will exaggerate the positive of his unique personality, trying to dispel the things that, even slightly, might hurt him.

This will not be a biographical account: I consider it more sincere to write only about the Diego that I believe I have known a little over the 20 years in which I have lived close to him. I will not speak of Diego as "my husband" because it would be ridiculous; Diego never has or ever will be anybody's "husband." Nor will I speak of him as a lover, because he is much more than sexual limitations, and if I spoke of him as a son, I would only be describing or painting my own feelings, almost my self-portrait, not Diego's. With this warning, and with complete honesty, I will try to tell the only truth—my own—so that I may paint, as far as I am able, his picture.

His appearance:
With an Asiatic head from which dark hair grows, so thin and fine that it appears to float in the air, Diego is an overgrown boy, huge, with a friendly face and a slightly sad gaze. His bulging, dark, hugely intelligent, large eyes find it hard to stop moving—almost out of orbit—with their swollen, protruding, toad-like eyelids, which are set very far apart, more than others' eyes.

Because of them, his gaze encompasses a much wider field of vision, as though they were built especially for a painter of spaces and crowds. Between those eyes, so far apart from one another, one perceives an invisible oriental wisdom, and very rarely does the ironic and tender smile, flower of his image, disappear from his Buddhic mouth, from his fleshy lips.

Seeing him naked, one thinks immediately of a young frog, standing on its hind legs. His skin is greenish-white, like that of an aquatic animal. Only his hands and his face are darker, because they have been burnt by the sun.

His childlike shoulders, narrow and rounded, continue without angles to feminine arms, ending in wonderful hands that are small and finely drawn, sensitive and subtle as antennae that communicate with the whole universe. It is astonishing that those hands have been used to paint so many things and are still working tirelessly.

Diego's shape is that of an endearing monster, who the grandmother, the Ancient Concealer, the essential and eternal matter, the mother of men, and all the gods that they invented in their delirium, originating in fear and hunger, THE WOMAN, among all of them—I—always wanted to hold in her arms like a newborn baby.

His character:
Diego is on the margin of all precise and limited personal relationships. As contradictory as anything that moves in life he is, at the same time, immense affection and a violent discharge of powerful and unique forces. He lives within himself, like a seed treasured by the earth, and outwardly, like landscapes.

Some people probably expect me to paint very personal portrait of Diego, which is "feminine," anecdotal, funny, full of complaints, and even a certain amount of gossip, of the gossip that is "decent," which may be interpreted and used according to the morbid curiosity of the readers.

Perhaps it is expected that I should lament about "how one suffers" living with a man like Diego. But I do not think that the banks of a river suffer because they let the river flow, nor that the earth suffers because it rains, nor that the atom suffers when it discharges its energy…for me, everything is naturally compensated.

Within my role, difficult and dark, as an ally of an extraordinary being, I have the recompense of a green dot within a mass of red: the recompense of equilibrium. The sorrows or joys that rule life in this society, rotten with lies, in which I live, are not mine. If I have prejudices and the actions of others hurt me, even those of Diego Rivera, I take responsibility for my inability to see clearly, and if I do not have any, I must admit that it is natural for the red blood cells to fight against the white ones without the slightest bit of prejudice and that this phenomenon means only health.

There are 3 main directions or lines that I consider essential in this portrait: the first is that of being a constant, dynamic, extraordinarily sensitive, and vital revolutionary fighter; a tireless worker in his trade, which he knows like few painters in the world; fantastic enthusiast in life and, at the same time, always dissatisfied at not having managed to learn more, to build more, to paint more.

The second: that of being eternally curious, a tireless researcher of everything, and the third: his absolute lack of prejudice and, therefore, of faith, because Diego accepts—like Montaigne—that "where doubt ends, stupidity begins" and, he who has faith in something accepts unconditional submission, without freedom to analyze or to vary the course of events. With this extremely clear concept of reality, Diego is a rebel and, with his marvelous knowledge of life's materialist dialectic, Diego is a revolutionary.

From this triangle, on which the other forms of Diego are made, a kind of atmosphere is unleashed that envelops the whole. That mobile atmosphere is love, but love as a general structure, as a movement that creates beauty. I imagine that the world in which he would like to live would be a great celebration in which each and every being was taking part, from men to stones, suns, and shadows: all cooperating with their own beauty and their creative power.

No words could describe Diego's immense tenderness for things of beauty; his affection for the people who do not have anything to do with the current class structure; or his respect for those who are oppressed by it.

He has an especial adoration for the Indians, to whom he links his blood; he loves them dearly for their elegance, for their beauty, and because they are the living flower of the cultural tradition of America. He loves children, he loves all animals, especially Mexican hairless dogs and birds, and plants and stones.

Of extraordinarily good taste, he admires and appreciates everything of beauty, whether it vibrates within a woman or a mountain. Perfectly balanced in all his emotions, his sensations, and his actions, those that move the materialist dialectic, precise and real, he never gives up.

He grows like the cactus of his land: strong and wonderful, whether on sand or on stone; he blooms with the brightest red, the most transparent white, and a yellow that is like the sun; covered in thorns, he shelters within his own tenderness; he lives with his strong sap within a ferocious medium; alone, he gives off light like the avenging sun over the gray of a rock; his roots live on despite being pulled up from the earth, overcoming the anguish of loneliness and sadness and of all of the weaknesses that crush other people.

He rises up with surprising strength and, like no other plant, blooms and bears fruit.

Credits: Story

Fragments of the text written by Frida for the book-catalog of the exhibition "Diego Rivera, fifty years of artistic work", presented at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City, from August to December 1949. The publication appeared extemporaneously in 1951

Raquel Tibol included it in the book "Escrituras", published by the UNAM in 1999.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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