March 12, 2022
By Brianna Miller, The Oregonian
Reflecting on the intense interest in Frida Kahlo’s work, Portland artist Patricia Vázquez recalled seeing an exhibition where an artist had collected quantities of Frida Kahlo-branded objects to draw attention to the muchness of it all.
“It’s something so banalized and commodified. It’s lost some of the artistic sense it could have because of how her image has become a souvenir that everyone wears in every form you can imagine,” said Vázquez.
“We have a saying in Mexico,” she added. “‘If she were alive, she would die again.’”
V. Maldonado, a multi-media artist whose most recent works are abstract paintings of brightly colored, intertwined lines — almost scribbles across massive canvases — is excited to see Frida Kahlo’s work at the Portland Art Museum.
“She was queer and powerful and ahead of her time,” Maldonado said.
Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Maldonado grew up moving between Central California and Mexico within a multi-generational family of migrant workers.
“My earliest memory of being asked why I wanted to be an artist was on a break in an apple orchard,” Maldonado recalled. “I said, ‘Because I want to make my own decisions.’ I watched so many people move in the world based on other people’s choices and the will of the farmer. I wanted my life to be made on my own choices.”
Maldonado graduated from the California College of the Arts in 2000 with a degree in painting and drawing and moved to Portland the same year. A few years later, they left for the School of the Art Institute of Chicago to pursue a Master of Fine Arts in Painting and Drawing. The experience was revelatory. Whereas in their undergraduate program they were encouraged to focus on one thing, their experience in Chicago showed them that an artist could be “an agent of change, the producer, the platform and the publisher.”
After that, said Maldonado, “my work became more and more radical, or should I say more rooted in my values.”
Until a few years ago, Maldonado incorporated images of lucha libre masks, the distinctively bright headgear worn by Mexican wrestlers, into their work. These appear in simplified profile in prints, and Maldonado wore the masks as part of an ongoing performance series called “Maskcam,” where they navigated and documented white environments as their alter ego, Madmex. The series was abandoned after President Trump came into office.
“Once Trump was elected you didn’t have to tell anyone we were in a white supremacy,” they said. “For me as an artist, the project came to an end because I didn’t have to point out the fantasy in your mind. The world had changed diametrically.”
Maldonado turned to painting and creating more personal work, which also coincided with their decision to transition.
“The work that I’m now presenting is esoteric and personal,” said Maldonado. “It’s a way for me to understand my experience as a trans person in my 40s living in a society that comes apart at its seams.”
In the series “Three Sisters,” monumental portraits of Maldonado’s mother and her two sisters, colorful loops of color scroll across the brushy linework underneath like a frizzle of crossed wires or unraveled balls of string suspended in space. The work is spare and intricate at the same time. Other recent paintings are more densely layered, and their self-portraits are interlocking cubist forms and deep colors that recall the work of José Clemente Orozco, another Mexican modernist included in the Portland Art Museum show and someone Maldonado cites as an influence.
For Maldonado, Frida Kahlo was an artist who thoroughly embodied her experience and portrayed her authentic self.