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Frida and Iris

A couple of weeks ago I took a 3 hour journey to watch a film about the life of Frida Kahlo. I'd been inspired by Frida for as long as I can remember. However, up until recently I actually didn't have a great depth of knowledge about Frida. I'd admired her paintings, her fashion style and her self-portraits, in particular the many photos of Frida set in her home in Mexico. This rather amateurish and naive picture that I held of Frida was born out of a limited exposure to real iconic artists and women and a lack of understanding of what is inspirational and how to truly know ones artistic merit. I was a Frida novice. More recently I have taken to broadening my understanding and knowledge of Frida, truly digging deep into the depths of who she was and the impact she has had on women all across the world. I'm still a novice and no doubt will be for a long time yet, but I have taken it upon myself to study and create art that is inspired by iconic women, like Frida, to really understand what it is that makes them inspiring, and icons in their own right. This brings me to my love of the iconic fashionista Iris Apfel. Straight away I can tell you that the first time I saw a picture of this magnificent woman, I was captivated visually by her style. The bold colours she wears, the overly large glasses that sit neatly on the brim of her nose and the more than usual number of accessories that adorn her body. I was in love. She was a burst of visual creativity, of everything that I loved about fashion and the possibility of it. But again I want to drill down to a much deeper level to understand her influence and inspiration.

You see, we all think about inspiration differently. I've always been a very visual person. If I can see something special in a person, a unique quality, a visual impact and imprint than I am interested to know more. Others may require a more intellectual stimulus to be inspired by someone and others again may be inspired by great feats and achievements.

Frida inspired painting by me, Kat Bell, September 2019.

With Frida, I first came across her images when I was in high-school, reading books on artists. She didn't feature hugely in art literature back then, in fact, the breadth of available literature 30 years ago was lacking somewhat in my life circles. It was when I ventured to South America in my twenties that my exposure to Frida became so much more profound. I saw Frida inspired images everywhere, but I will say that I still don't think I came across any actual images of Frida Kahlo's own artwork, rather there were many interpretations of Frida style art and images to be found in mass. This didn't matter, I was captivated by these images and the idea of Frida. I'd inquired about her and was told of this amazing female Mexican artist, who was a great inspiration for many young women. More notable was her lack of removal of facial hair (something that was rather intriguing and seemed contrary to social norms and expectations). Also one could not deny her fabulously unique style of clothing which showcased traditional Mexican design and attire. I was in love with the vibrant colours that she wore, those big bright flowers on her head displayed against the beautiful cobalt blue of her house that featured prominently in many of her photos. Here was someone that was clearly bold and beautiful (despite the unmistakable moustache and mono-brow).

As a young woman struggling with my own sense of self and identity, Frida was someone worth learning more about. Unfortunately in my thirties I took a more conservative route in life, trapped in the cycle of corporate work and life I set aside my creative interests and donned dull grey and black suits to fit into the expectations of the modern, adult world. In my forties I am now back to my roots of exploring my creative side (the true me). This is where Frida becomes so much more important to my own creative journey. You see, Frida for me is about self-reflection, self-exploration, self-expression in it's purest form. Frida is about being free to explore oneself and ones experiences and to understand these and be able to tell ones own story through art. Here is where her art and knowing her art has been so much more poignant at this stage in my life. It isn't about the quality of the artwork itself, but the ability to express ones stories, ones pains, ones joys, ones anger, hurt, fear, excitement, love, admiration, desires and much more through art. It is about drawing on the struggles of life and putting them into ones artwork to capture those moments for what they truly are, through ones own eyes. As I work through the years of a life hard lived to find my own strength and creative path, I feel a certain sense of fulfilment in knowing the story of Frida and being able to draw inspiration from her in so many ways.

So what about Iris? Well, as Iris would say "be who you are and take time to be open and honest with yourself". Many people go through life moulding themselves to other people's ideals and expectations of who they should be, how they should behave and what they should be doing. Iris exemplifies free will, to be who you want, what you want, how you want, when you want. She is inspired by everything around her. For me, as an artist I find creative inspiration everywhere in almost everything I see. The world is full of visual delights and I am constantly being drawn to things to re-imagine them in some fabulous artistic way.

One of my many outfits I designed and created to break away from the boring greyness of work attire.

Further to this Iris is the ultimate fashionista. At 90+ years of age, she struts her stuff like nobody else. No-one holds a candle to her in terms of her boldness in style choice, bright colours, fabulously outrageous oversized glasses (which I just love to the moon and back) and her ability to mix and match patterns, textures and designs effortlessly. Those that know me best, know that I absolutely love to wear bright colours, the more the better. On top of this, much like Iris, I love to accessorise, big bright bold earrings, necklaces and bracelets are my thing. I also have a passion for redesigning and up-cycling old clothes. I have many sewing projects on the go at any one time and on many occasions I have been known to wake in the morning before work and decide to sew my entire outfit for that day. Including creating earrings to match. Iris' words and images often feature front and foremost in my mind as I create my clothing or accessories. I draw on her for inspiration to inject bold bright colours and to be brave enough to be a little outrageous with the designs. I'm quite happy to look a little ridiculous, as long as I'm enveloped in colours, textures and everything that makes me happy.

I love to create all sorts of jewellery.

So with that I leave you with a few things to ponder on:

  • Who inspires you?

  • What is it about them that inspires you?

  • How do you draw on their inspiration in your day to day life or in your art or other aspects of your life?

  • How does this make you feel - to draw on and apply aspects of them in your art or life?

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