Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in Coyocoan, Mexico City, Mexico. Her father was a German immigrant and her mother was half Native American and half Spanish. This duality she felt was a common theme in her work. When Kahlo was 6 years old, she contracted polio, which impaired her ability to walk, as one leg grew less than the other. Because of this, she walked with a limp and wore long skirts to try and hide it. Poor health and injury followed her throughout her life. In 1922, she was part of a automobile accident. The bus she was riding in collided with a street car and her spine and pelvis were fractured. She would carry a great deal of physical pain with her for the rest of her life because of this. While healing in the hospital, Kahlo took to painting as a way to express herself. Her parents even build a special easel for her to allow her to paint while laying down.
Kahlo is known for her self-portraits. She often painted herself, surrounded by elements that depict her current mental and emotional state, as well as physical elements of her life because, in her words, “I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”. Her work largely falls into the category of surrealism, a genre of works that expresses the subconscious mind in a way which does not directly reflect reality. Dalí and Picasso are some of the most famous examples of surrealist painters, though they of course were not exclusively surrealists. One of the best examples of Kahlo work in surrealism is Henry Ford Hospital, 1932. This work depicts Kahlo on a bed surrounded by various things such as a snail, a flower, and, most importantly, an unborn child. She painting it after her second miscarriage and the work as a whole captures her feelings about the event. Because of her injuries, she was unable to bear children, something that weighed very heavily on her mind.
Through two marriages to Diego Rivera, and quite a lot of moving due to his career, she lived an interesting and oftentimes sad life. Rivera had numerous affairs, including one with Kahlo’s sister. In 1937, she had an affair with Leon Trotsky, a communist rival of Stalin. Trotsky was staying with Kahlo and Rivera with his wife at the time. Kahlo was also commissioned during this time to paint a picture of Dorothy Hale, a friend of her patron, who had committed suicide. The Suicide of Dorothy Hale portrays the story of her demise, and was donated anonymously to the Phoenix Art Museum, where I was lucky enough to see it in person.
The Broken Column, depicting her struggle with chronic pain, marks the beginning of a drastic decline in her health. She was in and out of the hospital for much of the rest of her life. She had to undergo a multitude of surgeries and part of her right leg was amputated to save her from gangrene. A week after her 47th birthday, she died, supposedly from a pulmonary embolism (a blood clot in her lung), though it has been suggested that she killed herself. She was very depressed throughout most of the end of her life. Today, though, she is widely adored and respected. In 1958, her home was opened as a museum. She was celebrated in the 1970’s as a female artists in the feminist movement of the day.
You may be wondering why I’ve decided to write this. I am neither a surrealist nor a portrait painter. The answer is: I really like and admire Frida Kahlo, both her as a person and her work. Her life was inspiring and also sad, and that’s okay. If you want to take an optimistic message away from this, think about how much she had to overcome on a daily basis and how much beauty she created out of gruesome and heartbreaking subjects. Also, she is in Disney’s Coco, which was a really good movie which played on her tendency to paint herself into every one of her works.
I’m not sure what I’m going to write for you next week, but I’m sure it will be something good. Why not stay tuned to see what it’s going to be? As always, if you have any questions or suggestions, leave them in a comment below. Until then, goodbye!