‘I paint my own reality. The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.’Frida Kahlo
Mexican painter Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray
She was born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón in the house where she would die, in Coyoacán, then a prosperous suburb and later a district of Mexico City. In the short, unusual, and productive life of Frida Kahlo, much has been said and written.
At the age of eleven, polio slightly crippled Frida’s right leg, leaving it a bit shorter and thinner than the left. She was studying at the National Preparatory School when the first stage of Mexican mural painting was developing. At the age of eighteen, she suffered an extremely serious accident that left her with a profound impairment of the backbone, pelvis, and uterus.
Her internal life caromed between exuberance and despair as she battled almost constant pain from injuries to her spine, back, right foot, right leg, fungal diseases,many abortions, viruses and the continuing experimental ministrations of her doctors.
She married Diego Rivera at the age of twenty-two when he was forty-two, and from 1930 to 1933 she lived in both the eastern and western parts of the United States.The singular consistent joy in her life was Diego Rivera, her husband. She endured his infidelities and countered with affairs of her own on three continents, consorting with both strong men and desirable women. But in the end, Diego and Frida always came back to each other.
Some time between the Spanish Civil War and the Second World War she met André Breton.
The first of her one-woman shows were in New York and Paris, not Mexico. Frida taught at the National School of Painting and Sculpture in the Mexican public school system, and in the cold-war years she was involved as actively as possible in the worldwide contingent of fighters for peace.
Frida and Diego Rivera 1931 by Frida Kahlo: Image Courtesy Pinterest
Diego stood by her at the end, as did a Mexico slow to realise the value of its treasure. Denied singular recognition by her native land until the last years of her life, Frida Kahlo’s only one-person show in Mexico opened where her life began.
Rivera often remarked, correctly, that Kahlo was a better painter than he was. Picasso confessed himself incapable “of painting a head like those of Frida Kahlo .” André Breton praised her art—with enthusiasm marked by condescension—as “a ribbon around a bomb.”
Frida Kahlo’s Style
Trapped and immobilised after the accident, she began realistically narrowing her options. As days of soul searching continued, she passed the time painting scenes from Coyoacan,and portraits of relatives and her friends who came to visit. The praise her paintings elicited surprised her and she began deciding who would receive the painting before she started. She gave them away as keepsakes. With this painting, she began a remarkable lifetime series of fully realised Frida Kahlo reflections, both introspective and revealing, that examined her world from behind her own eyes and from within that crumbling patchwork of a body.
Self~Portrait: Image Courtest Vogue
Self-Portrait (standing) along the Border between Mexico and the United States 1932: Image Courtesy Medium
In December 1930, Rivera received a commission from the United States. Frida accompanied Diego and established their quarters in a weekend house.
I have no women friends… and that’s why I spend my life painting. In September, I’ll give a show – the first – in New York.I don’t have any time and I could only sell a few pictures here, but it was very good for me to come here anyway, because it opened my eyes, and I saw so very many new and good things.Frida Kahlo in San Francisco
Fruits of the Earth, Frida Kahlo 1938
“Changes and struggles disconcert and terrify us because they’re constant and certain.”
Exhibits of her work have been held around the world to great critical acclaim.
In 2001, the U.S. Postal Service issued a 34-cent stamp of her 1933 Self-portrait with a Necklace.
One of her paintings was in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s surrealism exhibit, although she probably would have objected to being classified as a surrealist.
A movie has been made of Frida Kahlo’s life, starring Salma Hayek.
Several books, including a novel, have been written about her.
There has even been a traveling exhibit just of photographs of her.
She was on the cover of Time magazine;Volvo used her image to sell cars to Hispanics.
Her typically unsmiling, dark-browed visage can be found on posters, T-shirts, calendars, and many other objects in both the United States and Mexico.
There have been Frida look-alike contests, Frida operas, plays, documentaries, even a cookbook.
Frida Kahlo’s former home in Coyoacán is now a museum and one of Mexico’s hottest tourist attractions. Her paintings sell in the $10 million range.
What was there about this woman, crippled from the age of six by polio, smashed and broken in a horrendous street accident, not conventionally pretty, a heavy smoker and drinker, a dedicated Communist, abused and betrayed by both life and lovers, that has made her a heroine for many yearning souls, and a figure of almost mythic proportions?
It was not only her remarkable talent as a painter, her skill at producing art that resonates deeply in many people. There was also her indomitable spirit and love of life, characteristics that all the pain and disappointments she endured could not diminish. That spirit she carried to the end. In 1953, after her right leg had been amputated below the knee because of gangrene, she wrote in her diary:
“Pies para que los quiero, si tengo alas pa’volar?” (Feet, why do I want them if I have wings to fly?)
Viva la vida by Frida Kahlo
One of her last paintings is a still life of ripe watermelons, inscribed with the words, “Viva la vida”—Long live life.
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