Being Your Art : Inside Frida Kahlo’s Closet

Many of us never really find out what defines us beyond the friends we keep, the bands we hate, and how we like our eggs cooked. We hesitate, we bury the truth. We hold up our flickering candles while people we admire are overflowing like volcanoes. Frida Kahlo knew no such meekness of character. Her selfness could not be contained. Her art did not end at the edge of a canvas. It pumped through her veins, it welled in her eyes, it pervaded everything.

Frieda Kahlo
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“Really, I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself.”

“The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”
-Frida Kahlo


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Fifty five years after her death, the contents of Frida’s closet (long sealed by her surviving lover Diego Rivera) are now on exhibit at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City. Oh, to have been present the moment this monument was unlocked, to witness her joyous deluge awakening to creaking hinges. Having survived a spinal birth defect, childhood polio, devastating injuries from a trolley crash, and a repeatedly broken heart, Frida’s wardrobe seems to celebrate the miracle of borrowed time.


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Some people (usually called artists) instinctively transform pain and hardship into insight, humor and solidified beauty like it was a chemical reaction. For Frida, life, art and pain were literally inextricable. Her body cast and corrective boot were vibrant canvasses. She braided ribbons and enormous flowers into her hair and wore an envious overabundance of oversized jewels, vivid lipsticks, and facial hair. Incorporating her dreams and nightmares, she immortalized every detail of her style and rustic elegance in a series of self-portraits that would come to profoundly influence fashion and art forever.

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I know I could stand to be a little more like Frida.

Be Honest About Who You Are.
Frida could have just as easily plucked her eyebrows and waxed her lip, but instead she stood out proudly amongst a sea of forgettable femininity. She drank, swore, and got depressed. But even as her body ached and her husband philandered with models and dancers, she roared with authenticity.

“I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows. But now the damned things have learned to swim ,and now decency and good behavior weary me.”
-Frida Kahlo

Create.
Creativity is our attempt to communicate what is ultimately inexpressible; how we interpret our individual realities. From the delicate way you slice onions to how you make your bed, your life is your Art. Fashion is nothing but a precious daily opportunity to turn our soft little bodies into works of beauty. Figure out what you love and do it as often as you can. Create until there is nothing left in your head. Write to figure out what’s in there in the first place.

Garnish your daily life with humor and beauty like there actually is no tomorrow.
Sing in the shower. Wear party dresses to dinner. Pile on costume jewelry like it’s going out of style. Paint your house a heartbreaking shade of indigo. And ferchrissakes, laugh.

“Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.”
-Frida Kahlo

Life is too short for hesitation. Art is not art if it is half-assed.

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Alive. And, Well…

That, my friends, is what we call an hiatus. Nothing is the same.

Do you ever get these hilariously long, action-packed stretches of euphoric, indescribably magical moments? And they kind of last years? You get caught up in this seemingly indestructible nothing-can-go-wrong-ever-again bubble. And then, as it always goes… *POP*.

I met my boyfriend Rian last July, followed by a chain of glimmering vignettes:
A romantic gold-colored date in a dusty brick corner of candlelit belgian beer bar. Fervent canoe rides in a silvery pond. A giggling late night jog to a bioluminescent beach. Desert adventures. Packs of coyotes. Almost quadra-handedly throwing a romantic egyptian-themed wedding for dear friends. Writing an award-worthy poem about ocelots. Painting an entire house. Getting published in several magazines. Planting an olive orchard. Brewing a saison. Three separate skinny-dipping excursions. Ducklings and baby pigs. Picking wild avocados from a high ocean cliff. Swimming with sea turtles in the dusklight. Losing my bikini top in a 20 foot wave. Collecting hyacinth blossoms in my kayak. Making out in an empty lagoon on Oahu in the dark. Infinity hot tub overlooking the Pacific. Surprise whale-watching, sailing and helicopter rides. Shmancy hotels. The worst motels. Too much sashimi. Making out on a rooftop underneath a fantastic meteor shower. Living at the top of a 1940’s house on the beach. Planning the Great American Roadtrip. Dolphin sightings, sunsets, rollercoasters, bonfires…

Grow Together by May Xiong

And then in June – a trip to Yosemite to photograph the virginal wedding of two human-shaped baby seals, when the reception is interrupted by a phone call:

Because of failure after failure after failure of Kaiser’s doctors to properly diagnose him, my little brother Nik was in emergency surgery for a brain tumor the size of a baseball. This *POP* sounded more like an atom bomb in my brain. I was angry. I panicked. My recent chain of serendipity had turned into an avalanche of WTF. I did not stop panicking for a good 3 months. My boyfriend was like, “Who’s THIS?” We were asking a lot of the same questions.

I fancied it a bit of an existential crisis, which I highly recommend if you live by the ocean and have the luxury of nursing one. Perhaps we are calmed by the ocean because it can give you a very small taste of the infinite. You begin to grasp the rarity of life within the enormity of the universe and what a fantastical, mind-blowing fluke it is that we’re experiencing consciousness, beauty and yes, even sadness. We are alive.

“All sanity depends on this: that it should be a delight to feel heat strike the skin, a delight to stand upright, knowing the bones are moving easily under the flesh.”
-Doris Lessing

But in the face of reality, the magic does not stop – rather it takes on a more emphatic glow in the face of all that bubble annihilation – you just have to find it. The only way to cope with the imminence of death is to truly live. My brother faced surgery and chemo like Richard Simmons does a rainy day. My family rallied and found him a promising clinical trial. I started taking my health more seriously. My relationships got stronger. My 3 year old nephew Ennio was diagnosed with epilepsy, but got better with holistic supplements after modern medicine failed him. When our best canine friend Mapplethorpe passed away from cancer, we commissioned his portrait and rescued a puppy who would’ve made him proud. The Great American roadtrip was burgled from us by some incompetent redneck mechanics but we managed to lick every scrap of fun out of Pigeon Forge, TN. You keep calm, carry on, and carpe the fuck out of some diem.

Mapplethorpe by May Xiong

We ate raw oysters. Learned to poach eggs. Sang showtunes while floating in a Pleasure Dome pool in SC. Rainy morning coffee with Jamaica on a river pier in Asheville, NC. A soak in a hot tub overlooking fog-laden Smoky Mountains flickering with fireflies. Dollywood. Disneyland. Guffawed our way through the Troll 2 of overpriced dinosaur-themed carnival rides. Went camping in the rain. Watched out for bears. Beasts of the Southern Wild. Bill Nye the Science Guy’s hand on my left butt cheek (Bill, if you don’t want me to say that about you, consider it redacted, but it was one of the top 3 best moments of my life). Had a just-as-it-should-be conversation with Drew Carey on set of The Price is Right. Took a timely three weeks to tromp around the East Coast with Jamaica before it was destroyed by some hurricane. Under the Boardwalk in Atlantic City. Walked across Chicago. Drunk swimming in the ocean while the sun set in November. Richard Simmons’s hand on my right butt cheek after doing the robot with him and Sarah Von Bargen of Yes & Yes.

But the thing about reality is that it is real, and coming to get you whether or not you expect it. Bodies break, we love the wrong people, we lose ourselves, our children are exposed to extreme violence. Tragedy is all at once so unlikely and so damned imminent. But please don’t worry. It is the acceptance of the imminence of tragedy that centers us. As my dear friend Ryan Eastwick would say, “Receive it.” Tragedy reveals your vulnerability and your true self simultaneously. We must nurture our vulnerability like we would nurture a child’s innate courage. That’s where the fertile ground is. In September I spoke to an Argentine lady whose son had recently committed suicide. She said, “I had to take that pain and turn it into something creative and productive or I would die.”

“Do not despise your inner world… As we grow, we all develop a wide range of emotions responding to this predicament: fear that bad things will happen and that we will be powerless to ward them off; love for those who help and support us; grief when a loved one is lost; hope for good things in the future; anger when someone else damages something we care about. Our emotional life maps our incompleteness: A creature without any needs would never have reasons for fear, or grief, or hope, or anger. But for that very reason we are often ashamed of our emotions, and of the relations of need and dependency bound up with them… So people flee from their inner world of feeling, and from articulate mastery of their own emotional experiences… We are all going to encounter illness, loss, and aging, and we’re not well prepared for these inevitable events by a culture that directs us to think of externals only, and to measure ourselves in terms of our possessions of externals.
“What is the remedy of these ills? A kind of self-love that does not shrink from the needy and incomplete parts of the self, but accepts those with interest and curiosity, and tries to develop a language with which to talk about needs and feelings. Storytelling plays a big role in the process of development. As we tell stories about the lives of others, we learn how to imagine what another creature might feel in response to various events. At the same time, we identify with the other creature and learn something about ourselves. As we grow older, we encounter more and more complex stories — in literature, film, visual art, music — that give us a richer and more subtle grasp of human emotions and of our own inner world. So my second piece of advice, closely related to the first, is: Read a lot of stories, listen to a lot of music, and think about what the stories you encounter mean for your own life and lives of those you love. In that way, you will not be alone with an empty self; you will have a newly rich life with yourself, and enhanced possibilities of real communication with others.”
-Philosopher Martha Nussbaum

Painfully Hip turned me into a writer (by definition) and I remain forever grateful for my friends, family, and the internet’s acceptance and encouragement to turn that into actual creative writing. Because sometimes life gets too real to write about brands or trends or other people’s art and that’s when your passions get whittled out from The Things That Keep You Busy. So I am going to put on my ladies trousers and write what I know best and I’m not sure I care who reads it. I just know I need to write to truly live.

So bring on your End of the World. If you need me, I’ll be devouring the minutes.

My Gemstones are Real, and They’re Spectacular

As I’ve mentioned before, I used to be a bit of a jewelry fiend (read: I piled it on all at once like there was no tomorrow). But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gradually become aware of this thing called subtlety. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. Turns out, one mindblowingly entrancing bauble is far superior to an overflowing treasure chest bursting out out of the seams of your human costume.

It’s quality versus quantity, friends. Nuance versus exaggeration. But that doesn’t mean that your statement piece need be simple. Why not quench your desire to overindulge with just one dazzler?

It’s like ordering a single luxurious piece of velvety macadamia nut cheesecake instead of drunkenly gorging yourself on three bags of leftover Halloween candy and waking up on the living room floor at 5am under a blanket of crumpled shame wrappers with rainbow all over your face.

Um.

My point is, look at this jewelry!

Gemstones win the subtle/striking vote because they manage to accomplish MISSION:SHMANCY without looking fake. I want to pair those genuine emerald earrings with a strapless dress to show off my also not fake décolletage.

Lovely lady lumps indeed!

Under the Boardwalk


I write this as a tribute to the Atlantic City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. My thoughts are with the East Coasters I love, those whose magic paths I crossed, those strangers whose eyes have ever absently caught mine for a brief still moment, those Alley Cat Allies cats who live under the boardwalk.

Atlantic City and I have always had an unspoken romance.

Completely unspoken.
And one sided.

But after twenty-nine years of daydreaming, I awoke October 20th in a cushy queen bed in the Trump Plaza Hotel with a mighty hangover and fuzzy neon memories of the night before, of Atlantic City’s seedy streets unobscured by an underbelly.
Amber and I had ventured into the World’s Favorite Playground the evening before. On the drive I told her of my unfounded longing for AC, spurred only by an early childhood love of the song Under the Boardwalk by The Drifters.

It’s such a lazy summer song, but the tone in the chorus sounds like a warning.

UNDER THE BOARDWALK.

It sounds dangerous, like a gang straight out of The Outsiders is standing waiting for you, and as you approach, they all draw their switchblades in time to the word “WALK”. Either that or a shark’s fin is circling you in the sand.

But really, the song isn’t about much. You’re out of the sun, having some fun, and making love while tourists walk overhead, which I suppose is dangerous in its own way. I always loved the simplicity of the scene it evoked, and saw it in pastels. A girl in gingham, eyes closed, lips parted. Her hair in perfect pin curls. Her lover is tanned, handsome. Tiny stripes of sunlight from between the boards above them dash across bare skin. They are holding their poses like mannequins, softly awaiting a directive that will allow them to resume their caresses. But this is my daydream, and I want to pause it here for eternity, let nothing change, let these lovers never part, let the sun never set.

So basically I figured that in Atlantic City, it is always the 1950’s.

This assumption, I’m afraid, faded upon our arrival. We piped the song via youtube through the car stereo on repeat, 2012ing the shit out of it as we pulled into one of the multilevel parking structures at Trump Plaza.

What followed was several hours of sensory overload: a flurry of flashing lights, dings rings and bells, cheap drinks, free drinks, giant buddhas, racist slot machines, hot wings, felafels, more drinks, walls of dollar bills, fountains, strippers, and so much more.

As we walked arm in arm down a windy street, a gentleman suggested his friend “get those girls”, to which his friend replied, “Dude, I don’t have any money.”

I had a secondary modern daydream of winning big on the penny slots, maybe buying us a couple of diamond rings, but alas, at our best we cashed out with $.04.

So upon waking the next morning, I resigned myself to the fact that Atlantic City’s boardwalk is, just as I was told, a quainter Vegas with a real beach. At least now I knew. At least I was no longer living a lie.

We made our way down to the hotel pool, where we swam and discussed Singing in the Rain and the nature of love vs. self-preservation. At some point during this conversation, it became the 1980’s and we smoked imaginary Virginia Slims as we gazed out at the ocean through the floor to ceiling windows.
We glanced around and decided it was the 1920’s as well.

Venturing out onto the boardwalk in the October sun only fed our time travel greed, and by the time we made our way under the boardwalk to snap some photos, the fact that we were youtubing the song again was inconsequential, as the 50’s had overtaken me. A singular iPhone was no match for this desaturated seaside dreamland.

As if to show us we were doing something right, the song came on of it’s own accord minutes later, streaming through the House of Blues speakers as we stood beneath them, and I soaked up my little present from the universe. Not a week later, a Spanish-language version blessed my ears in a NYC taqueria, and last night in Marina del Rey, CA, a live band played the song as the reunited Taco Yacht Pleasure Crew gobbled down several metric tons of seafood.

Yep, I finally made it to LA. And as long as The Drifters surprise serenade me weekly, I’m going to assume that I’m right where I should be.

Painfully Trite Twitter Tweets for 2012-08-26

  • J'adore le train. @ Wine Country http://t.co/RCvDGh79 #
  • An excerpt from Painfully Hip will soon be published in an Oxford University literature text book. Dreams do come true. #

Painfully Trite Twitter Tweets for 2012-08-05

Check Me Out: Traveling Shoes

Tucson, darling. It’s been almost three glorious years, and this is really hard to say, but I just have to come right out with it: I’m leaving you.

Wait. Stop. I can’t take it when you look at me that way. Listen baby, Its not what you think. I still love you. I don’t want to leave, it’s just… I want to see other cities for a while. Hey no, hold on. Don’t be jealous. Lord knows you have more amazing women at any given time than any other city of your size, and I’ve been loyal to you this whole time. What? No, that’s not what I meant. Size doesn’t matter anyway, you know that.

Please, I need you to understand. It’s not you. Its just that I haven’t really spent quality time with very many cities, and I can’t really be sure I’m ready to settle down if I’ve got this itch to see other places, you know? I’d always be wondering what else was out there. You wouldn’t want that would you?

We both know I’ll be back one day, but until then, here’s something for us to remember each other by. I took a farewell walk through your oldest streets last evening in my favorite boots, in a dress I just made for my last fashion show as your resident.

The Dreamer Boots by Nicole are not only super comfy, but they go with everything and make me feel like a gazelle. I’m about to fully embrace a nomadic lifestyle, and in preparation, have gotten rid of all my possessions, excepting what I can carry. Admittedly, these boots are a bit bulkier than the average traveler would recommend. And okay sure, they don’t pack easily, but what that says to me is I should never take them off.

Baby, when I look down at my feet I’ll always think of you. And one day, the boots will come striding back through your dusty desert streets again. You can take the girl out of the desert, but you can’t take the desert out of the girl.

After all, we’re obviously sole mates.

And with a bad pun, I exit.



Nicole Dreamer Boots
, $145
One of a kind black wrap dress with embroidery detail, Sapphire Cordial. Price on request.
H&M hat, gift from my friend Megan
Coyote earrings, gift from Amber

Photos by Ciaran Harman

Painfully Trite Twitter Tweets for 2012-07-29

Painfully Trite Twitter Tweets for 2012-07-15

  • My internal struggle with inspiration, featuring Louis CK, axe murderers and Juggalos. http://t.co/ANosrydZ #

“Creative Juices” Revealed to Actually be Faygo, Or How Jam Got Her Groove Back

A reoccurring daydream of mine has been to have too much time to myself, isolated from the world for several months with nothing but my sewing machine, a large iTunes library, and enough super healthy food that I wouldn’t have to venture into the world at all.

It’s a reverie that has calmed me when overwhelmed, hungover or sick to death of my job. I would plan my escape, figuring how much I would have to save up, where I would go, who I would tell (very few), and what I would do if somebody tried to break into this hypothetical house while I was sleeping and murder me for no reason I know this is an absurd thing to stress myself out about but I can’t help it and I have done it since I was a kid and nothing remotely like that has ever happened to me but I still freak out about it and on a similar note camping is terrifying.

Um. Well, as luck would have it, this scenario (the house to myself, not the faceless axe-wielding maniac*) was handed to me on a silver platter right when I got back from accidentally spending two and a half weeks in the Bible Belt (Make that four and a half weeks for Rian and Ryan, who are finally hauling yacht back to LA).

When my friend Monique asked me to dog/cat/veggie garden/house sit for most of July, I jumped at the chance. A perfect opportunity to cash in on some much needed alone time and prepare for the fashion show I agreed to do July 20th, my first in over a year. So I moved my few belongings in, bought a ton a healthy food, turned on some Moonface and sat down to sketch…

And nothing.

Everything I drew looked contrived and amateurish. And boring. I concentrated on the theme. I looked at magazines. I finally joined Pinterest. I had long phone conversations with my mom on the topic(s) of art vs. business vs. selling out vs. no one cares vs. blah blah blah and had countless revelations which I immediately forgot.

After a week and a half spent hunkered down, trying to concentrate, cursing my lack of vision/motivation/a flat stomach, I had a little facebook chat with my friend Michael Lopez. A fellow designer, he seems to be constantly producing things, updating his etsy store, doing photoshoots…he displays a level of excitement and productivity I haven’t felt since I was 22 or so (not counting a few little spurts coinciding with wanting to impress someone, or that little known internet gem called Concrete and Cashmere).

Michael explained that when he didn’t feel inspired to sew, he’d screen print, or just make basic crop tops, just make something. Slowly I began to remember what it’s like to sew. Most of the time when I end up with a piece I really love, it was one that continuously morphed as I made it. Sure, I’d have a basic sketch, but since I rarely work from patterns, I’d always be compensating, changing it from the shape I originally intended and into something new and beautiful that I didn’t expect. (<<< check out that sick metaphor 4 life, bro.)

So instead of sitting around watching the first two seasons of Louie and getting more and more depressed, (well, not instead. I should have said, after watching the first two seasons of Louie and the Joan Rivers episode totally punching me in the revelation gut, and the duckling episode making me cry) I made a decision.

I decided to stop thinking.

Specifically, thinking about the future. My mind had been occupied with so many career-related what-ifs and if-I-can’t-make-clothes-then-what-is-my-purpose-in-lifes, that my hands had become immobile. All I had to do was pick up the fucking scissors and get to work. And so I did. And I made a couple of really shitty pieces of clothing.

But it was either actively try to create, or give up and slump into a lethargic Netflix globule, whining to the dogs about how pathetic I am.

Two days later, things started to turn around. Tonight I finished a fourth gorgeous dress and I couldn’t be more excited about the upcoming show. As I stated in my last post, the evening’s theme is Future Primitive, something that at first didn’t resonate with me. Now, however, I can confidently see where this collection is going and pinpoint its main themes. Ladies and gentlemen, get ready. The designs in their essence:

Lascaux cave paintings -meets- Juggalo babes going to the opera.

(I’d like to note for the record: I just spent twenty minutes photoshopping hatchetmen** onto a cave wall for you and then said aloud “What the fuck am I doing?”)

If you happen to be in Tucson, I’ll see you Friday, but I’ll post pictures as soon as I can after the show, which is FREEEEEE.

*I am fully aware of my absurdity here, and have talked my heart out of exploding countless times: What are the chances that there is a guy with an axe/revovler/candlestick just wandering through these woods right now? It’s raining anyway, he’d be too damp and uncomfortable to be in the mood to kill me, and besides he doesn’t know me. Most murders are committed by someone the victim knows, right? Or am I thinking of rapes? Or am I thinking of most car crashes occurring within five miles of your house? Whatever. There would be no motive, is what I’m getting at. And if this imaginary calculating brute is for some reason an acquaintance of mine, why me? I’m so nice! And I’m poor! I have literally nothing this creep could want. He couldn’t even want my identity, since I have somehow managed to achieve a terrible credit score, despite the fact that I didn’t go to college and I’ve never had a credit card. To conclude, there is no chance that anyone is trying to kill me. That sound I heard was probably just a bear.

**The irony of this post involving potential “axe wielding” individuals AND hatchetmen just now hit me.