There's A Frida Kahlo Exhibition In Town, Kind Of

Arts & Culture

Pictured: Beck Lane with three of her portraits of Frida Kahlo.

Head down Fruitville, away from downtown and out past the fairgrounds, to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota and its Lexow Wing Gallery, where, if you’ve made an appointment, they’ll open the doors instead of throwing you out and you’ll find yourself surrounded by 17 not-small and definitely colorful portraits of the iconic Mexican artist-activist Frida Kahlo. Painted by Sarasota artist Beck Lane, the exhibition represents only a portion of Lane’s ongoing “55 Frida Project,” seeing the artist paint 55 portraits of Kahlo in homage to the 55 self-portraits Kahlo made over the course of her career.

“She knew her value in this world when no one else recognized it,” Lane says. “I want people to see that.”

Not simple recreations of Kahlo’s original self-portraits, each of Lane’s paintings comes from an archival black-and-white photograph of Kahlo. It’s a method that Lane has used for many of her projects, having a lifelong love for black-and-white photography and a little bit of the opposite for the full-color version. “They have more soul,” she says. “And the color seems to take out that connection I feel.” It’s a  eeling she describes as first a strange sound in her head and then a jolt down her spine and into her hands. A feeling that says, “It’s time to paint the donuts.” Or something like that.

With an image selected, Lane begins each portrait by first chalking in the figure and the basic shapes, then adding the first layer of color with aerosol—spray-paint and stencils—to enhance outlines and build the palette. Then comes the oil paint. And it’s here that, again, Lane makes a defense of her monochromatic source material. “If I had a color photograph in front of me,” she says, “it would be telling me what to do. That takes all the fun and exploration and adventure out of the painting.” Mixing the oils with mineral spirits or a gel medium, Lane can control the viscosity and, in doing so, determine how much of the underlying aerosol shines through, creating a sort of glow. It’s an effect the artist has enjoyed exploring and employing, but never on Kahlo’s face or eyes, where she wants audiences to see the subject’s power absent any such trickery.

Because although Lane does not pretend to any special connection to Kahlo’s art or her activism, she can’t help but be moved by the eyes of a woman who was dismissed her entire life but kept fighting. “Here’s a woman who could have been utterly and completely crushed by life,” Lane says. “And I want people to see themselves in her and feel lifted and like they can keep fighting.”

Currently on display at the Lexow Gallery at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, The 55 Frida Project runs through July 14. The gallery is open Sunday, 10am-1pm, and Tuesday through Friday by appointment. An artists reception will be held tonight from 5pm to 7pm.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, 3975 Fruitville Road, Sarasota.

Pictured: Beck Lane with three of her portraits of Frida Kahlo.

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