More about Frida Kahlo
Works by Frida Kahlo
Kim Kardashian’s coffee table book has nothing on the self-portrait queen, Frida Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter, best known for her skillful self-portraits which showcased her ability to capture complex themes like identity, the body, and death. She is often identified as a surrealist, although she denied a connection to the movement. (The only surrealist she reportedly respected was Marcel Duchamp.)
Frida was born to a German father and Mexican mother. Her dad, Wilhelm Kahlo, was also an artist himself, his medium being photography. She showed more interest in science than in art as a child, and went to the National Preparatory School in 1922 with intentions of eventually studying medicine. She met her future husband, Diego Rivera, there whilst he was working on a mural. In 1925, she was involved in a bus accident, and her health was permanently impacted. She had over 30 operations due to the injuries she sustained. During her recovery she developed a deeper interest in art, often reading and painting.
After she recovered, she joined the Mexican Communist Party, where she met Rivera again. They married in 1929 and moved to the United States shortly after. During this time she began to wear Tehuana dress as her trademark and began incorporating influences from Mexican folk art. In 1931, she painted Frieda and Diego Rivera whilst traveling all over the U.S., receiving commissions for murals from several cities.
Kahlo and Rivera had a tumultuous relationship. They married then divorced, then remarried and each with multiplicity of affairs in between. While they were traveling in the U.S., Kahlo met fellow female artist, Georgia O’Keeffe. They were fast friends and even rumoured to be lovers. Both women were married to artists whose careers overshadowed theirs at the time. In 1933, when O’Keeffe had a breakdown and hospitalized, Kahlo wrote to her, expressing her feelings in a letter saying, “I thought of you a lot and never forget your wonderful hands and the color of your eyes." There was no record of O’Keeffe’s response so it is unknown if Kahlo’s feelings were reciprocated, but the women remained lifetime friends with O’Keeffe attending her exhibit at a gallery in New York City in 1938 and visiting her while she was ill during her old age and Kahlo creating a piece called Magnolias in part inspired by O’Keeffe’s work.
Another one of Kahlo’s high-profile flings was Russian revolutionary and fellow communist Leon Trotsky. She and Rivera hosted Trotsky and his wife in their home while he was politically exiled. Rivera had recently been caught cheating on Kahlo with her own sister, so she began one with Trotsky as retribution. She was 29 at the time and he was 57. It ended not long after it began, with Frida even remarking “I am very tired of the old man” to a friend and Trotsky’s wife catching on and confronting him. It was over by July of that year, but it inspired Kahlo to paint Self-Portrait to Leon Trotsky where she holds a paper that reads “to Leon Trotsky, with all my love”.
Both Kahlo and Rivera’s affairs were well-documented and the couple even shared a rumored lover, Dolores del Rio, one of the first Latin American Hollywood stars. She inspired Kahlo’s Two Nudes in a Jungle, which features two naked women; the one with her head on the lap of the other bears resemblance to del Rio.
In 1939, the couple divorced and Kahlo painted her heartbreak in The Two Fridas the same year. The painting features two versions of her, one in European dress and the other in her signature Tehuana with a miniature portrait of Rivera in hand. In both her heart is exposed, connected to the other Frida through an artery. The artery is cut on the other end, dripping blood onto her white dress. However, the on-again off-again couple’s divorce was short-lived and they remarried the next year in 1940.
Kahlo, like most 20th-century artists, was an eccentric figure to say the least. She was uncomfortable with the cultural conceptions of gender present in Mexico and often challenged them. She often referred to her friends, male and female, as her cuantes, a term normally used by men in referring to their bros. One of the ways she did so was through cross-dressing. She started donning male attire in her teens, even wearing a suit and tie at age 19 in a family photograph. In 1940, she painted Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, depicting herself in a suit with short hair. The hair was an especially bold statement as it is a sign of Mexican femininity and beauty. She also emphasized her facial hair in her self-portraits, including her signature unibrow, to make herself more androgynous.
In 1943, she was appointed professor at La Esmeralda, the Education Ministry’s School of Fine Arts. She had an unconventional teaching style. She asked her students to address her using the informal tu rather than the formal usted. She also took them to see Francisco Goitia, an artist who left Mexico city to live an authentic peasant life in Xochimilco and not the “peasant life” of shopping at farmer’s markets and drinking DIY kombucha in a rustic-chic luxury log cabin. She also took them to slums, convents, churches, and marketplaces and even had them paint a mural on the wall of a pulqueria, or a type bar specializing in pulque, an alcoholic beverage which, like tequila, is made from the agave plant (except weaker).
Towards the end of her life, Kahlo experienced many health issues. She turned to drugs and alcohol and underwent multiple surgeries that required prolonged hospital stays, eventually needing assistance to walk. In 1953, she attended her first solo exhibition in Mexico lying in a bed. She died a year later of pulmonary embolism.
- Bakewell, Liza. "Frida Kahlo: A Contemporary Feminist Reading." Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 13, no. 3 (1993): 165-89. doi:10.2307/3346753.
- Kettler, Sara. “Behind Frida Kahlo’s Real and Reported Affairs with Men and Women.” Biography.com. June 19, 2019. https://www.biography.com/news/frida-kahlo-real-rumored-affairs-men-wom…
- Udall, Sharyn R. "Frida Kahlo's Mexican Body: History, Identity, and Artistic Aspiration." Woman's Art Journal 24, no. 2 (2003): 10-14. doi:10.2307/1358781.
- Zelazko, Alicja. “Frida Kahlo.” Encyclopedia Britannica. July 9, 2019. Accessed July 30, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frida-Kahlo.
Frida Kahlo ranks very high on the league table of artists who endured a great deal of physical pain and suffering.
She started early. Some researchers think she was born with spina bifida and all agree she contracted polio at age 6. At 18 she got crushed in a horrific bus versus trolley accident for which she had to endure over 30 surgeries. At age 46 one of her legs became gangrenous and was partially amputated, and at age 47 she died of a pulmonary embolism.
Some think she committed suicide from an overdose of pain killers. They cite a diary entry which read 'I am waiting to kill myself' and her last diary entry, which says 'I hope the exit is joyful, and I hope never to come back.'
Frida dealt with all of this pain by painting and drinking. The drinking was not very successful. 'I tried to drown my sorrows,' she reportedly said, 'but the bastards learnt how to swim.' The painting worked out fine.
Without question, Frida Kahlo sports the most famous unibrow in art history.
This iconic artist was a Mexican communist, and proud of it. She often wore the colorful Tehuana indigenous dress, which also served to cover up her deformed leg, due to a bout with childhood polio. Frida wasn't self-conscious though. Her many self portraits are brutally honest, reflecting the lifelong physical pain caused by a nasty bus accident when she was 18 years old.
Anguish from her tumultuous relationship with famous husband artist Diego Rivera is also fair game in her work. Rivera and Kahlo had a rocky relationship to say the least. They married, divorced, remarried, cheating all the while. Rivera was known as a ladies' man from day one and made no attempt to cover up his affairs. Kahlo was madly in love with Rivera and was deeply hurt by his philandering ways. She was outgoing, charming, with an off-color sense of humor and as such had no problem engaging in outrageous affairs herself. One of her lovers was the infamous communist Trotsky, who had the misfortune of being murdered during a visit with Kahlo and Rivera.
She once said, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter." Renowned surrealist artist Andre Breton described Kahlo’s work as, “A ribbon around a bomb.” Both the artist and her work were definitely edgy! This might be why she only had three major shows during her lifetime. But now, of course, her list of achievements is endless. Since her death in 1954 Kahlo has been become the...
- First Mexican woman featured on an U.S. postage stamp.
- Star of Frida, a biographical film grossing $58 million worldwide (played by Salma Hayek, no less!).
- Subject of the novel Lacuna by best selling author Barbara Kingsolver.
- A Google logo on the 100th anniversary of her birthdate.
Here is what Wikipedia says about Frida Kahlo
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón (Spanish pronunciation: [ˈfɾiða ˈkalo]; 6 July 1907 – 13 July 1954) was a Mexican painter known for her many portraits, self-portraits, and works inspired by the nature and artifacts of Mexico. Inspired by the country's popular culture, she employed a naïve folk art style to explore questions of identity, postcolonialism, gender, class, and race in Mexican society. Her paintings often had strong autobiographical elements and mixed realism with fantasy. In addition to belonging to the post-revolutionary Mexicayotl movement, which sought to define a Mexican identity, Kahlo has been described as a surrealist or magical realist. She is known for painting about her experience of chronic pain.
Born to a German father and a mestiza mother, Kahlo spent most of her childhood and adult life at La Casa Azul, her family home in Coyoacán – now publicly accessible as the Frida Kahlo Museum. Although she was disabled by polio as a child, Kahlo had been a promising student headed for medical school until being injured in a bus accident at the age of 18, which caused her lifelong pain and medical problems. During her recovery, she returned to her childhood interest in art with the idea of becoming an artist.
Kahlo's interests in politics and art led her to join the Mexican Communist Party in 1927, through which she met fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The couple married in 1929 and spent the late 1920s and early 1930s travelling in Mexico and the United States together. During this time, she developed her artistic style, drawing her main inspiration from Mexican folk culture, and painted mostly small self-portraits that mixed elements from pre-Columbian and Catholic beliefs. Her paintings raised the interest of Surrealist artist André Breton, who arranged for Kahlo's first solo exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York in 1938; the exhibition was a success and was followed by another in Paris in 1939. While the French exhibition was less successful, the Louvre purchased a painting from Kahlo, The Frame, making her the first Mexican artist to be featured in their collection. Throughout the 1940s, Kahlo participated in exhibitions in Mexico and the United States and worked as an art teacher. She taught at the Escuela Nacional de Pintura, Escultura y Grabado ("La Esmeralda") and was a founding member of the Seminario de Cultura Mexicana. Kahlo's always-fragile health began to decline in the same decade. She had her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953, shortly before her death in 1954 at the age of 47.
Kahlo's work as an artist remained relatively unknown until the late 1970s, when her work was rediscovered by art historians and political activists. By the early 1990s, not only had she become a recognized figure in art history, but she was also regarded as an icon for Chicanos, the feminism movement, and the LGBTQ+ movement. Kahlo's work has been celebrated internationally as emblematic of Mexican national and indigenous traditions and by feminists for what is seen as its uncompromising depiction of the female experience and form.
Check out the full Wikipedia article about Frida Kahlo