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The Suffering Artista in Mexico

I’m going to tell you the story of how falling off a ladder trying to get up to a roof in San Miguel de Allende finally helped me to understand the worst cuss-word there is in Mexican spanish: hijo de la chingada.
Along the way, I learned the value of suffering in art through reflections of la chingada in Mexican art, and you can’t talk about women and suffering and Mexico and art without the holy visage of Frida ascending her way into the conversation.

To illustrate, I have 2 Before and After shots to put before you today.

Before and After #1… The Artist on Tuesday.

fresh self portrait june 8 2015

Before, Jessica Antonelli Self-Portrait, oil on canvas, June 8 2015

This was an exciting self portrait, done in less than 2 hours, and much looser than my usual tight, realistic style. I was so excited at the breakthrough in brushstrokes I went out with friends that night. With a mezcalito too many in me, I decided I’d brave a ladder leading up to a scenic roof that I’d been too weenie to climb up before.

But that weenie-ness was wiseness in disguise. I crashed down to the tile floor, landing mostly on my wrist, secondly on my face.

Which leads us to the Artist After the Fall…

After portrait

After, Jessica Antonelli self-portrait, oil on canvas, June 12, 2015

I was never as bloody as this intimates with the magenta slipping down the canvas like that, but I was desperate to get some of that raw emotion out of me and note the canvas before I lost the opportunity to catch it in oil instead of bottling it up inside. Frida has a great quote on that:

"Walling in your own suffering is risking that it will devouring you from within." Frida Kahlo

“Walling in your own suffering is risking that it will devour you from within.” Frida Kahlo

I couldn’t help googling the wheezy out of Frida while I was recuperating. Mexico is rather famous for it’s suffering females, and Frida Kahlo reached icon status after a lifetime spent suffering from everything from polio, to a spine-crunching trolly accident, to a philandering spouse–the world-famous Diego Rivera, whose betrayals were so devastating he even had an affair with Frida’s sister.


The Broken Column, 1944, oil on wood, Frida Kahlo



 But it wasn’t just Frida who led me to understand one of the worse spanish cuss words. I’ve been hanging out with enough local good influences in Mexico, that after the fall I thought to myself se chingo, that arm got fucked up. Perhaps it was the influence of the anesthesia that had me dreamily wonder about something or other I’d heard about Mexico herself being referred to as la chingada, or the fucked over.

I did some intensive research by typing the question into google.

la chingada definition

Please, please, if you have time and any interest in the complexity of Mexican culture and gender and vulgarities and identity crisis, read this excerpt from Octovio Paz’s The Labryrinth of Solitude.

The title in the pdf is Sons of La MalincheHijos de la Chingada, and the story of La Malinche came back to me from an early spanish class here in San Miguel de Allende.

La Malinche was in the nobility in her native indian Atzec people when Cortez and his Spaniards arrived with conquest on their minds. The trilingual La Malinche helped translate her native Nahuatl language into Spanish, much to Cortes’s advantage.

José Clemente Orozco's "Cortés and Malinche" (1926). Image from Allegory of a Revolution

José Clemente Orozco’s “Cortés and Malinche” (1926). Image from Allegory of a Revolution

Not only did Cortes take advantage of La Malinche’s language skills, he violently opposed and brought down her home nation, had a son by her, and then abandoned it all. No small wonder that her experience of being fucked, being aggressively used and screwed over in both micro and meta ways, have led her to be known as la chingada, the Mexican Eve, and the mother of all Mexicans who call themselves hijos de la chingada.

Octavio Paz says it so much better than me. Here’s another link to read that article, seriously now.

I mentioned I was in an anesthesia haze during all of this, but here’s another Before and After to prove I’m a suffering artist, in case the portraiture didn’t convince you:

Before …The Artist’s LEFT (thank God) Wrist on Tuesday

Before, Front View

Before, Front View


Before Side View

Before Side View

Aaaand After

After, X Ray Frontal

After, X Ray Frontal

I will have this apparatus on for the next 6 weeks, and tonight I’m feeling rather grateful that the suffering of a broken wrist has led me to a deeper understanding of Mexican culture and cussing. Without this horrifying clamp in my arm I never would’ve seen Orozco’s haunting and powerful mural image of La Malinche and Cortes, or painted out my feelings in that self-portrait I finished today that exhausted my energy reserves, but still left me feeling stronger.

More importantly I must thank my family and friends who helped me get to the right hospital in Mexico, or immediately flew into San Miguel to nurse me back to health, or were so stinkin’ worried about where I’d disappeared to they filed a missing persons report on me while I was having surgery. Love you guys. Muchas. Muchas. Gracias.



Visiting the Frida Museum, Mexico D.F.

Easter weekend, and the line around the Frida Kahlo museum wrapped twice up and down the street in Coyocan where Frida and Diego Rivera once lived, painted, and hosted the likes of Leon Trotsky.

No way were we going to wait in line two hours.

Here’s the Best way to avoid the line at the Frida Museum:

Go online to buy your tickets in advance at this website, show up at your appointed time, and skip the line! It costs a bit more but it’s well worth it. However, weekdays are not as busy as a holiday weekend, so you can probably get in without too long of a wait most of the time.

Museo Frida

After escaping the line, we went a few blocks away to the Trotsky Museum, the former residence of the man whose name is it’s own -ism, Trotskyism.  In his fort-like home, he was assassinated with an ice pick, although not before carrying on an affair with Frida, who often cheated on her husband Rivera to counter her husband’s many infidelities.

I knew a lot about Frida and Trotsky’s scandalous affair from one of my all time favorite books, Frida, a Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera. (Her life is beyond fiction. A must read.)

What I did not know is that the Mexican Muralist Siqueiros participated in an attempt to murder Trotsky before the guy with the ice pick finished the job…Can you imagine Diego and Siqueiros as contemporaries, two of the most famous artists of their time, at war over politics that spanned across the globe, rivals in both their views on communism and their approach to painting a wall, Siqueiros actually attempting murder for his ideas… mind boggling.

To visit their homes, and walk the few blocks that Frida would have traversed between her home and Trotsky’s, makes their incredible lives all the more real, and recent.

Frida, Diego, Trotsky and others

Here Frida and Diego, an unlikely couple in themselves, pose with Trotsky and other Marxist sympathizers.

The museum also hosts much of the artwork Frida composed in her time at the home in Coyocan, as well as her preserved painting studio.

Frida's palatte

Here Frida is a geometrical design of Frida’s palette, showing the range of colors she used in her symbolic and surrealistic-ish self-portraiture. Frida's Studio

Frida’s studio. It is worth it to pay and extra 30 pesos to take pictures. Otherwise, you have to put the cameras away!

Visiting edgy Mexico City helped me to understand the raw passion Frida had for life, she having grown up there. It is a city where you must always be alert for trouble, actively keeping track of your purse and how much the taxis are charging. But the alertness makes you feel alive, a part of the city in a way that most safe tourist destinations don’t.

Frida grew up in Mexico City in a time when politics raised blood and saw it spilled in the streets. Diego, who was the most famous artist in Mexico at the time, made artwork a weapon for social change and revolution, favoring a Marxist future for Mexico. His grandiose murals empower the people, the worker, the heart and capable hands of Mexico.

If Diego represents heart and hands, Frida was the soul, la chingada (pardon my spanish) who was ravaged by polio, accidents, heartbreak, and betrayal–and yet her artwork expressed her irreverent attitude toward life, which she laughed at and with, in a way so purely Mexican that it is hard to put in english.

I highly recommend D.F. and Frida’s Museum, but only after reading Frida, a Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera, which everyone who breaths should read.

Have you been to Mexico City recently? What was your experience? Comment below to share!

Oil Painting Process

This excellent video by Youtube expert MrPicment is an entrancing example of building up a composition using a very dark, textured background, and then adding lighter tones to create the final portrait.

The process of adding layers of color is one of my favorite things about oil color. In acrylic painting, by contrast, you most often directly lay down exactly the color that will be seen in the final painting from the get-go. What you see is what you get. In oil painting, the artist is uncovering a mystery, one glaze at a time. This video example in particular reminds me of lifting one veil after another until we finally meet the woman underneath.

Oil Painting 101

I am forever indebted to world-renowned photographer George Krause for the incredible show he has brought to Bellas Artes in San Miguel de Allende: The Sfumato Nudes of San Miguel. Not only are these beautiful nudes a well-done expression of the vulnerability, charm and strength that exists among all ages and shapes, but is is also an INCREDIBLE opportunity to sketch and paint the nude form!

I have taken every extra minute I have had the last week to camp out with my art materials in the show. I’d like to take the opportunity of this excellent show to go step-by-step through the same process we go through in oil painting classes.

Step 1: Highlights
Begin on a tinted canvas. It does not matter particularly what shade the canvas is painted, only that it is not excessively light or dark. We aim for a mid-tone, so that the highlights (the bright whites and lighter tones) and lowlights (your dark darks) will pop out strongly from the mid tone that you begin with. This helps paintings move along quickly. Also, working with a mid-tone influences the subsequent colors layered above them. A warm red such as I have begun with below, will lend it’s warmth to the final painting, even if we cover every centimeter of red with paint.

George Kruass

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So You Think You Can’t Draw?

I don’t know when it began or where, but there has been a devious lie circulating for ages about artistic ability. People believe that you are either born with artistic talent, or not. I haven’t heard of a single scientist coming out with evidence that drawing skill has been linked to the 15th chromosome, or that it has to do with the same gene that signals for dark eyes, and yet people take it as a fact that you are naturally an artist, or you are doomed to a life of stick-figures and self-depricating jokes. How to draw mountains demitri martin However, as you can see above in this thoroughly scientific graph by comic genius Demetri Martin, drawing skill is directly related to the amount of time spent practicing it.

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Sketching San Miguel Part 2

We will continue to capture the city this week in new locations with exciting new Interior sketch San Miguel de Allendesubjects.

Each class is 2 hours long, with a little under one hour of drawing lessons and warm-ups, then one hour on location.

Thursday, Jan. 29th, 1:00-3:00pm– Instituto Allende, Ancha de San Antonio 20, meet at the fountain in the center courtyard. Class focus: Learning from the Maestros. In partnership with B’nai Or Gallery, we will study in the tradition of renaissance masters: by copying the great works of local artists in San Miguel. We will choose one or two paintings to study in depth, and may also find time to sketch the Parroquia from the back patio, which offers one of the best views in town.

Armando Martinez B'nai Or Gallery

Friday, Jan. 30th, 1:00-3:00pm– Bellas Artes, Hernández Macías 75, Centro, 37700 San Miguel de Allende, GTO. Meet at the fountain in the inner courtyard. We will begin with warm up drawing drills, review linear perspective, then break into small groups to sketch the lovely architecture of the building, which includes a stunning mural from Mexican mural master Siqueiros.

Saturday, Jan 31st, 1:00-3:00pm– Instituto Allende, Ancha de San Antonio 20, Arts and Crafts Fair. Each student will be given $50 pesos to buy one item which we will use to do a group still life. Class will meet outside of the Instituto, and after we shop for our objects we will sketch on the back patio. Brave souls who care to try to sketch amidst the bustle of the fair will be welcome to sketch in the vendor area as well, where the layers of booths stacks and bursting with goods would make an excellent composition.

Classes are $600 pesos for 3 days, or $250 pesos for drop-ins. Please sign up here