Saturday, September 04, 2004

The call to artists by will soon be out for artists wishing to be curated into the "Homage to Frida Kahlo" exhibition being hosted by them. There will be a substantial cash award and there is no entry fee.

I have been chosen to curate this exhibit due to my well-known interest in all things Kahlo.

It started in 1975, when I visited Mexico City and discovered the works of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Almost immediately, I developed an artistic obsession with Kahlo's image and I have created hundreds of works on that subject, including dozens of art school assignments at the University of Washington School of Art (1977-1981).

In 1975 my parents took their first vacation ever, at least in my memory. As Cuban exiles, the American tradition of yearly vacations was as removed from their routine as the Cuban tradition of Noche Buena is from American Christmas holiday customs.

Anyway, they decided to go to Mexico City for a week with another couple from New York, which is where my folks had been living since leaving Cuba as political refugees in the 60s.

In 1975 I was finishing my first year in the US Navy, where I had enlisted right after High School, and stationed aboard USS Saratoga, homeported in Mayport, Florida. I had turned down a New York State Regents Scholarship and a Boston University art scholarship to satisfy my desire to see the world before I went to college.

Mexico City and its nightlife and food (and how far a dollar went) made such an impression upon my parents and their friends, that the one-week trip became two, and eventually they spent nearly a month in that huge, dirty city, enjoying the food, scenery, clubs and markets. They also asked me if I'd like to join them for a few days, and since they were paying for it, I took a few days leave and flew to Mexico City for about five days of my own, unexpected vacation.

I hardly spent any time with them.

As a teenager, my interests were more focused on girls, cheap booze and plenty of great things to do. It was while visiting a museum during the last few days of my visit, at the insistence of a cute American Jewish tourist girl whom I had picked up at my parents' hotel, that I accidentally discovered Frida Kahlo.

Las Dos FridasI remember walking into the museum salon where the Two Fridas hung. It was love, or more like witchcraft, at first sight. This large, spectacular painting swallowed my visual senses and attention as no work of art would do again until I first saw Velasquez's Las Meninas at the Prado in Madrid eight years later.

At that first exposure, and the ones that followed as I tried to absorb as much of Frida Kahlo as I could in my remaining Mexico City days, I became an addict for the work and imagery of this Champagne Communist Mexican virago. I recall sitting down in the room where the Two Fridas was hung, and copying the painting through a pencil sketch done on gift wrapping vellum paper from an earlier touristy purchase of a huge, saucepan sized solid silver belt buckle and brown cowboy etched leather belt that I wore for years after and that thankfully has now been lost.

Kahlo left me gasping for knowledge about her and her work. Her imagery was like nothing I had seen before, even in my childhood's New York atmosphere that often included day-long trips to the Brooklyn Museum, the Met, MOMA and many other New York museums. The more of her work that I discovered, the more I became obsessed with learning about her.

In 1975 and the first few years that followed, this wasn't exactly an easy task. In those years Kahlo, at least in Mexico, was still Diego Rivera's wife, who also happened to paint.

In 1997, together with the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, DC I curated a small exhibition at the Fraser Gallery focused on an attempt to bring to Washington contemporary artwork that paid homage to Kahlo. It rapidly became one of the best-attended, most visited exhibitions ever held by the gallery and showed the giant strides in recognition that Kahlo and her art had made since that day in Mexico City when I first discovered her.

The 7 Fridas by F. Lennox Campello
The Seven Fridas (Pen and Ink, circa 1981)

Collection of Seeds of Peace

The love affair then produced in 2002 a show of my own work titled "Passion for Frida: 27 Years of Frida Kahlo Artwork." It chronicled 27 years of preparatory drawings, etchings, oil paintings, watercolors and sculptures about Kahlo. It received good critical attention in the Washington City Paper and the Washington Times. It consisted of work that I had done as early as 1975 and as recently as a week before the show opened. In the wake of Julie Taymor’s beautiful movie "Frida," it was also a spectacular success. Frida Kahlo Collage by F. Lennox Campello

And now I am honored to juror a worldwide call to artists who share my passion for Frida, for her life, for her artwork and for her influence. This call for art will deliver a new Homage to Frida Kahlo and all things Kahlo. I’d like to see work that delivers new portraits of Kahlo, or work that has been influenced by Kahlo, or by her life or her work.

In the end, I hope to put together a virtual exhibition that will leave a memorable footprint of the tremendous influence that this iconic daughter of Mexico left on all of us.

As soon as the official call is ready to be announced, I will post it here.

For Women Photographers

The next Secondsight meeting will be held on Thursday, September 23 at 6.30pm in Bethesda, MD. The guest speaker will be Amy Lamb, a very successful fine arts photographer and highly respected scientist. For more information, visit or call Catriona Fraser at (301) 718-9651. Meetings are free for members - $10 for guests.

Secondsight is an organization dedicated to the advancement of women photographers through support, communication and sharing of ideas and opportunities. Secondsight is committed to supporting photographers at every stage of their careers, from students to professionals. Each bi-monthly meeting includes an introductory session, a guest speaker, portfolio sharing and discussion groups. Each photographer will have the opportunity to present their work within a small group of other photographers, ask for constructive criticism, gain knowledge or simply share their artistic vision and techniques.