Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo may not have lived the longest of lives, dying at the age of 47. Nonetheless, she managed to leave quite a large legacy behind. Kahlo is in fact one of Mexico’s most famous artists, a distinction she shares posthumously with former husband Diego Rivera. Her work is largely classified as folk art, and many would agree that there is a surreal edge to Kahlo’s overall style.

Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo

Both Mexican culture and the cultural traditions of Amerindians were major influences for Frida Kahlo. In her native Mexico she is widely celebrated for transmitting these aspects in her work. In relation to her style being referred to as surreal, Kahlo did not favor the use of such labels, and it is interesting to note that Diego Rivera preferred to call her a realist. Both of these labels could be considered appropriate, as Kahlo had a tendency to mix fact with fantasy. This mix of reality with the imaginary is quite common in Mexican art on the whole.

Frida Kahlo Biography
Frida Kahlo Biography

Frida Kahlo was born in the Coyoacan area of Mexico City in 1907. This isn’t the year that the artist liked to refer to as her birth year, however. Instead, she eventually came to tell people that she was born in 1910 instead. 1910 was the year that the Mexican Revolution began, and it is believed that Kahlo claimed it as her birth year in order to associate herself more with the revolution. There is certainly no denying that the artist grew up amidst revolution and political chaos, and she herself maintained a rather revolutionary edge throughout her life.

Suffering was something that Frida Kahlo was familiar with, and this is exhibited in many of her works. At age six, she contracted polio, which caused her right leg to be thinner than the left. Even more severe were the injuries that she suffered in a bus accident in 1925. As a result of this accident, Kahlo broke numerous bones and dislocated both a right foot and a shoulder. She also suffered damage to her abdomen and uterus, and in addition to never being able to carry a child to term, Kahlo had to undergo more than 30 operations and was essentially in constant pain from there on out. Frida Kahlo referred to the 1925 bus accident as one of the two grave accidents of her life. The other was Diego Rivera. The relationship that the artists had was as tumultuous as it was passionate, and infidelity was to blame for many of the problems that arose.

Frida Kahlo Paintings
Frida Kahlo Paintings

In relation to Frida Kahlo’s art, it is interesting to consider that nearly one-third of her paintings were self portraits. In these numerous self portraits, the intent was often to create symbolic portrayals of the artist’s suffering, both within the physical and psychological realms. One such example is the painting entitled The Two Fridas. This work was painted at the time of Kahlo’s divorce from Diego Rivera and actually features two self portraits. On the left is the "rejected" Frida with her heart visibly broken. On the right sits the "loved" Frida, and it is clear to see that her heart is whole. You can find The Two Fridas at the Museo de Arte Moderno (Museum of Modern Art) in Mexico City.

Frida Kahlo Photograph
Frida Kahlo Photograph

Animals are often present in the works of Frida Kahlo. These animals tend to be exotic. It is common for monkeys to appear in her self portraits, for example. Such is the case with the painting Self-Portrait with Monkey, which can be found at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. Plants and trees are also common in Kahlo’s works, and they can have various meanings. In the painting Self-portrait on the Borderline Between Mexico and the United States, for instance, blooming flowers in the foreground represent the natural and agragrian aspects of Mexico that Kahlo so cherished. On the other hand, the artist found the United States to be a more industrialized and less friendly land, and this is depicted through symbols and imagery in the painting as well. The work is part of a private collection.

It is important to note that both Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were Marxists, and this undeniably influenced their work. Examples of Kahlo works that reflect the artist’s leftist views include Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick and Self Portrait with Stalin. Both of these works are on display at the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan, and as you might suspect, this museum is a very popular Mexico City attraction.

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