L izzie Ball has played with some of the biggest names in music, including Brian Wilson, Kanye West, Adele and Nigel Kennedy, as well as founding Classical Kicks — an innovative approach to performance that allows musicians from the worlds of rock, jazz, pop and hip-hop to bring classical music to a broad and diverse audience. Ahead of her upcoming performance at Art Out Loud, she discusses the enduring influence of artist Frida Kahlo, her work with long-term collaborator Morgan Szymanski and what visitors to Chatsworth can look forward to.
LIZZIE BALL PHOTOGRAPHED BY SILVIA CRUZ.
Frida Kahlo is one of the most enigmatic artists of the 20th Century. What drew you towards devising a show around her life and work?
I've been having a love affair with Latin America for many years, but Mexico is the place I'm most intoxicated by. Morgan Szymanski, the guitarist who's accompanying me with this show is Mexican born — and we've been collaborating for almost fifteen years. The more research I did in to Frida Kahlo, the more I began to realise she is present in the lives of so many of us. Frida's image is as familiar as that of the iconic one of Che Guevara; you can find them on almost every street corner wall graffiti or in every gift store in Latin America.
We were touring in Mexico when I got the call from Sheron at Art Out Loud inviting me to come and do something musical, which was a huge and great privilege as I had previously associated the festival with the visual arts and literature. Because I was in Mexico at the time, I had developed a deeper understanding of the country and the culture and I realised this was the subject I wanted to explore. So I went to Frida Kahlo's house, Casa Azúl, which they've now turned into museum honouring her, and it just did something to me. I was actually in tears the whole way round. It was her house and it's exactly as she left it, which is so powerful. Some rooms are now a gallery, but the bedroom, her studio, the garden — are all left intact. The kitchen is full of amazing pottery as she loved to cook, and there is a pebbled mural on the wall that reads 'Frida' and 'Diego'. I got a lump in my throat walking round and imagining this woman, and all that she went through with her deeply challenging medical and personal history.
THE KICTHEN AT CASA AZÚL, MEXICO CITY. PHOTOGRAPH MIGUEL TOVAR. COURTESY MUSEO FRIDA KAHLO.
I rang Sheron up in the middle of the garden and said: "I'm going to do the show on Frida, to tell her story from a musical angle." Frida was a woman of the people and would be more likely found in a bar singing songs with the locals than at the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City. She wasn't that bothered about high society, more about looking inward. I recently read an article by Brigid Delaney covering the 2016 Frida Kahlo and Diego Riverea exhibition in New South Wales, New Zealand, that discussed her as the first 'Selfie' superstar, with her almost obsessive painting of self-portraits as well as her love of photography and being photographed by others (including her own father, a professional photographer, from a young age) as many times as she was.
FRIDA KAHLO WEARING A MEXICAN FOLK COSTUME, CIRCA 1950. © HULTON ARCHIVE/GETTY IMAGES.
What can visitors to Art Out Loud expect from the show?
It is partly a talk, but punctuated with references to the important moments of her life and her influence with songs and pieces of music that have a direct relationship not only with her life, but with some of her paintings themselves. Some of the references are Mexican folk songs that are to Mexico what Danny Boy is to Ireland; anthemic local songs that would have been sung by everyone from the man in the street to the King. These are folkloric songs that tie to the imagery and ideas she suggests in her paintings. Between Morgan and I we found some really fascinating stories that will cover the stages of her life: the relationship with Diego Rivera, looking at her as a female icon and her encounters with other figures such as Leonora Carrington. Carrington's cousin, the author Joanna Moorhead has written so wonderfully about both women in her book The Surreal Life of Leonora Carrington. We will also look at her amazing relationship with fashion and her wardrobe, and how this affected so much of her art and life.
LIZZIE BALL AND MORGAN SZYMANSKI IN MEXICO. PHOTO: TANIA ESQUIVEL.
You mentioned that Frida is an iconic figure who resonates with so many people globally. What do you think her cultural legacy is?
The final part of the talk will talk about her outward influence. Many visual artists and musicians have been inspired by her — famously Madonna is one of her biggest fans and collectors, and Coldplay were inspired to write their hit single Viva La Vida by her last painting of the same title, so the playlist for the show will include things that people recognise. Her influence is far-reaching, and to be honest, the hardest challenge is what to leave out of the show! It truly is a universal approach to music.
Lizzie Ball and Morgan Szymanski will perform Viva la Vida con Frida: A musical journey through the life, times and art of Frida Kahlo as part of Art Out Loud at Chatsworth House on Friday 22 September. You can book tickets here.
Art Out Loud runs from 22—24 September 2017 at Chatsworth House, and is proudly sponsored by Sotheby's.