Art History, Artist Profile

Happy Birthday Frida Kahlo!

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Frida Kahlo is my spiritual animal. Not only was she a beautiful soul and talented artist, she did not have an easy life. Her work is celebrated in Mexico and also by feminists who acknowledge her depiction of female expression and experience.

Although she is sometimes classified as a Surrealist artist, she rejected that label and said her paintings reflected more of her reality than her dreams.

"The Wounded Deer" by Frida Kahlo

“The Wounded Deer” by Frida Kahlo

She has been through it all. Not only did she live through the Mexican Revolution, at six years old she contracted polio which resulted in her right leg becoming thinner than the left and as she got older, she hid this by wearing long, colourful skirts. It was also rumoured that she was born with spina bifida which would have affected her spinal and leg development.

When she was a teenager, she was in a tragic bus accident which left her with a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. Also, an iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus (ouch), resulting in difficulties in reproducing. She suffered lifelong health problems including relapses of extreme pain. While recovering from her injuries she was bedridden and confined in a hospital bed for months at a time, she was isolated from her peers and began to paint her famous self-portraits which perfectly reflect this isolation and her pain. But through this experience, she was able to become the painter we all know and admire today.

The Broken Column by Frida Kahlo OSA164

“The Broken Column” by Frida Kahlo

07512-frida-kahlo-v15 kahlo Kahlo used bright colours and dramatic symbolism and primitive style that is common with indigenous Mexican culture. Themes included the monkey, which in Mexican mythology is associated with as a symbol of lust. Kahlo used this symbol as a tender and protective symbol. She also combined themes of her familial background, and Christian, Jewish and Mexican themes were often depicted in her works.

"Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird" by Frida Kahlo

“Self Portrait With Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” by Frida Kahlo

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“My Birth” by Frida Kahlo

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“Tree of Hope, Remain Strong” by Frida Kahlo

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“Without Hope” by Frida Kahlo

If things couldn’t get worse, her marriage with another famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera was extremely volatile as they both had bad tempers and both would cheat on each other countless times. Kahlo who was 20 years younger than Diego, was bisexual and had affairs with both men and women and although Rivera didn’t care much about her female relationships, her affairs with men made him jealous. Rivera, on the other hand had an affair with Kahlo’s younger sister. Although that relationship was clearly unhealthy, we can thank Rivera for encouraging her artistic development and to pursue painting as a career. They ended up divorcing to get married again a year later but often lived separate from each other…talk about making their lives the storyline for a soup opera, am I right???

Frida-Kahlo-and-Diego-Rivera-Exhibition

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

In July of 1952, Frida’s right lower leg was amputated at the knee due to gangrene. In addition she also had a case of bronchopneumonia which left her weak and ill for another two years.  Diego still at her side, attended to her anxiety attacks and still encouraged her to keep painting. Kahlo died on July 13th, 1954 and the official cause of death was stated as pulmonary embolism, although she began to increase her morphine consumption after the amputation and some suspected that she died from an overdose that may or may not have been accidental. A few days before she died, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful- and I hope to never return– Frida”. And even though, her relationship with Diego was rough, he stuck by her and encouraged her even on her last days because he loved her. In his autobiography, he wrote that the day Frida died was the most tragic day of his life and he realized too late that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her. 

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Frida has been described as: “…one of history’s grand divas…a tequila-slamming, dirty joke-telling smoker, bi-sexual that hobbled about her bohemian barrio in lavish indigenous dress and threw festive dinner parties for the likes of Leon Trotsky, poet Pablo Neruda, Nelson Rockefeller, and her on-again, off-again husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

She also been quoted to say, “I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.”

Feliz Cumpleaños to the most feistest woman ever.

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