Kahlo's horrific "A Few Small Nips," painted in 1935, is a revelation in many ways. As Herrera tells the story, Kahlo was inspired to make this gruesome painting, which depicts a man in a bloodbath of an assault on a naked woman who has been stabbed many times, from a newspaper story relating the crime. The killer, while being reprimanded by the judge, was quoted as responding that he had only given the victim a "few small nips."
"A Few Small Nips" by Frida Kahlo
The work came at a difficult time in Kahlo's own life, when her marriage to Rivera was on the rocks, because Rivera had an affair with Kahlo's younger sister, Cristina. The painting is a visual bloodbath itself. Kahlo's misery is projected onto the victim lying naked on a bloodied bed. There's blood everywhere, including the frame, which Kahlo has used to extend the bloodstains.
There's something else that even a Kahlo expert such as Herrera first discovered when she saw this painting for the first time during this exhibition: Kahlo has also stabbed the frame repeatedly, extending her own anger onto the wood, giving it a few small nips of her own.
This is why sometimes even a familiar work of art yields new clues when examined for real. Those angry stabs on the frame had not been revealed in the countless reproductions of this work. This revelation alone is worth a trip to see this exhibition.
Another incarnation of Frida Kahlo was her ability to paint her own pain. Starting with a horrific accident in her youth, which left her body broken and subject to pain throughout the rest of her life as well as countless operations, Kahlo borrowed from her own physical pain to deliver images that makes us wince from a different place than the images of a suicide or a stab victim.
Physical pain that comes from a deep, moist place inside us all, and which Kahlo has exposed via her painting many times. It's there in "The Broken Column," (c. 1944) and also in "Without Hope," and perhaps in one of her best-known paintings, "The Little Deer," where the pain becomes arrows on the deer's body.
There are surprises in this show as well — even for a Fridaphile like myself, and I suspect for most acolytes of Fridamania — such as "The Circle," a round work that is undated and looks nothing like any Kahlo work that I have ever seen.