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Painting and Bodies and Frida Kahlo

A black and white photograph of Frida Kahlo lying in bed on her stomach, her head turned to look at the viewer.

Source: Exploring Frida Kahlo’s Relationship With Her Body – Google Arts & Culture

I’ve often thought about the physicality of painting, and how I suspect that aspect of the work may be invisible to non–painters. For much of my life I have preferred to paint on fairly large surfaces – 4’x5′ or larger was often a sweet spot. This requires a lot of the body, especially as someone who’s not even 5’4″. Standing, crouching, reaching. Arms up. Bent sideways. Sweeping arm gestures. Logistics of whether you paint flat on the floor and what does that do to your back. Whether you use an easel, and whether you’re reaching too high or too low. Where are your materials laid out and what you can reach easily.

And then there is a matter of the materials themselves. How easily the do or don’t apply. The viscosity and flow and whether they need to be applied flat or vertical for the effects you want. I love creating little pools, circles and marks with high flow paint, but it must be flat (check the tilt in your floors!).

All of these factors play into any work space set up. And what do you do when the body fails you?

I mentioned in my last post that I’m struggling to figure out how to work in my bedroom instead of my studio, and what it might look like to paint from bed. I’ve looked around for ideas from other artists with physical limitations, and there isn’t a lot of information that’s readily available. I’ve stared at some of these pictures of Frida Kahlo over and over, looking to see how she managed to paint with a body that failed her over and over.

I appreciated this profile of her relationship to her body and how it showed up in her work. I resonate with the sense of introspection that comes with the isolation of being confined, the way she so often turned the focus on herself in her work. And I have yet to figure out an easel setup from bed that lets me with with high flow paint.