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"Passion for Frida: 27 Years of Frida Kahlo Artwork"
2002-12-20 until 2003-01-15
Fraser Gallery
Georgetown, MD, USA United States of America

In 1975, 19-year-old F. Lennox Campello visited Mexico City and discovered the works of Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Almost immediately, he developed an artistic obsession with Kahlos image and created hundreds of works on that subject, including dozens of art school assignments at the University of Washington School of Art (1977-1981). Although that vast majority of those works were sold over the years, this exhibition chronicles 27 years of preparatory drawings, etchings, oil paintings, watercolors and sculptures about Kahlo.

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 Nochebuena 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 early 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 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 Id like to join them for a few days, and since they were paying for it, I got 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 19-year-old 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.

I 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 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.

- F. Lennox Campello


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