Thursday, April 2, 2009

Frida Kahlo Mexican Painter

I am stunned by the work of Frida everytime I look at it. She is one of the artists who is a genuine representative of painting. She is so honest with her work that it hurts. Had she been a writer her writing would make you rethink about the autobiographies that you've ever read. The heart-wrenching bare realities told with tearing truth would have made you shocked and sad at the same time. Such is her style. I have never seen an artist's work so flawless, intriguing and compelling as of her.

She was born and raised in Mexico and was way ahead of her times in everything she pursued. No wonder her work seem so contemporary that you'd wonder why she is placed in history! She mostly painted her own portraits and every single one has a story to tell.

Frida's Biography

Here is the biography of her which is not from this book but good to know just in case you'd like to know.
Frida's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as the Blue House. She gave her birthdate as July 7, 1910, but her birth certificate shows July 6, 1907. Frida claimed this so because she wanted the year of her birth to cooincide with the year of the outbreak of the Mexican revolution, because her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico.

At age 6, Frida was stricken with polio, which caused her right leg to appear much thinner than the other. It was to remain that way permanently.

When Frida entered high school she was a tomboy full of mischief who became the ringleader of a rebellious group of mainly boys that continually caused trouble in the National Preparatory School. This group pulled many pranks, mainly on professors. It was also in the National Preparitory School that Frida first came in contact with her future husband, the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera. He was commissioned to paint a mural in the school's auditorium.

On September 17, 1925, when she was 18, she was riding a bus in Mexico City when it was struck by a trolley car. A metal handrail pierced her abdomen, exiting through her vagina. Her spinal column was broken in three places. Her collarbone, some ribs, and her pelvis were broken, and her right leg was fractured in 11 places. Her foot was dislocated and crushed. No one thought she would live, much less walk again, but, after a month in the hospital, she went home. Encased for months in plaster body casts, Kahlo began to paint lying in bed with a special easel rigged up by her mother. With the help of a mirror, Kahlo began painting her trademark subject: herself. Of the 150 or so of her works that have survived, most are self-portraits. As she later said, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

Although Frida's recovery was miraculous (she regained her ability to walk), she did have relapses of tremendous pain and fatigue all throughout her life, which caused her to be hospitalized for long periods of time, bedridden at times, and also caused her to undergo numerous operations. She once joked that she held the record for the most operations. Frida underwent about 30 in her lifetime. She also turned to alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes to ease the pain of her physical suffering.

Once she was out and about after her accident, a close friend introduced Frida to the artistic crowd of Mexico, which included Tina Modotti (well known photographer, actress, and communist) and Diego Rivera.

Diego and Frida were married on August 21,1929. Their marriage consisted of love, affairs with other people, creative bonding, hate, and a divorce in 1940 that lasted only for one year. Their marriage has been called the union between an elephant and a dove, because Diego was huge and very fat, and Frida was small (a little over 5 feet) and slender.

Despite Diego's affairs with other women (one was with Frida's sister), he helped in many ways. Kahlo shared Rivera's faith in communism and passionate interest in the indigenous cultures of Mexico. Rivera encouraged Kahlo in her work, extolling her as authentic, unspoiled and primitive, and stressing the Indian aspects of her heritage. During this period "Mexicanidad," the fervent embrace of pre-Hispanic Mexican history and culture, gave great currency to the notion of native roots. At the same time, being seen as a primitive provided an avenue for recognition for a few women artists. Kahlo, who had Indian blood on her mother’s side, was of Hungarian-Jewish descent on her father’s side. Although initially a self-taught painter, she was, through her relationship with Rivera, soon travelling in the most sophisticated artistic circles. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine that anyone who shared Rivera’s life could have remained artistically naive.

Presumably because it generated respect and imparted credibility in the art world, Kahlo encouraged the myth of her own primitiveness—in part by adopting traditional Mexican dress—and it stayed with her throughout her career.

During her lifetime, Kahlo did not enjoy the same level of recognition as the great artists of Mexican muralism, Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. However, over the last two decades that has changed and today Kahlo’ s idiosyncratic, intensely autobiographical work is critically and monetarily as prized as that of her male peers, sometimes more so.

Her paintings, rooted in 19th-century Mexican portraiture, ingeniously incorporated elements of Mexican pop culture and pre-Columbian primitivism that, in the 1930s, had never been done before. Usually small, intimate paintings that contrasted with the grand mural tradition of her time, her work was often done on sheet metal rather than canvas, in the style of Mexican street artists who painted retablos, or small votive paintings that offer thanks to the Virgin Mary or a saint for a miraculous deliverance from misfortune.

Frida let out all of her emotions on a canvas. She painted her anger and hurt over her stormy marriage, the painful miscarriages, and the physical suffering she underwent because of the accident.

Kahlo who was so proud of her luxurious facial hair that she painted it right on to her self-portraits.

Frida, despite all of the hurt in her life, was an outgoing person whose vocabulary was filled with 4 letter words. She loved to drink tequila and sing off color songs to guests at the crazy parties she hosted. She loved telling dirty jokes and shocking everyone around her. Frida amazed people with her beauty and everywhere she went, people stopped in their tracks to stare in wonder.

Rivera, a dedicated Trotskyite, used his clout to petition the Mexican government to give Trotsky and his wife asylum after they were forced out of Norway. Rivera and Kahlo put up the Trotskys in Kahlo's family home. (She painted a self-portrait dedicated to him that now hangs in Washington's NMWA.)

After Trotsky was assassinated, however, Kahlo turned on her old lover with a vengeance, claiming in an interview that Trotsky was a coward and had stolen from her while he stayed in her house (which wasn't true). "He irritated me from the time that he arrived with his pretentiousness, his pedantry because he thought he was a big deal," she said. . Frida was later arrested for his murder, but was let go. Diego was also under suspicion for the murder, but he was let go as well. Several years after Trotsky's death, Diego and Frida enjoyed telling people that they invited him to Mexico just to get him killed, but no one knows if they were telling the truth or not. They were fantastic story tellers.

The fact is that Kahlo turned on Trotsky because she had become a devout Stalinist. Kahlo continued to worship Stalin even after it had become common knowledge that he was responsible for the deaths of millions of people, not to mention Trotsky himself. One of Kahlo's last paintings was called Stalin and I, and her diary is full of her adolescent scribblings ("Viva Stalin!") about Stalin and her desire to meet him.

All over the world, people loved Frida. When she went to France, she was wined and dined by Picasso, and appeared on the cover of the French Vogue. In America, people loved her beauty and her work. In Mexico, her homeland, she had many great admirers.

Frida only had one exhibition in Mexico and it was in the spring of 1953. Frida's health was very bad at this time and doctors told her not to attend. Minutes after guests were allowed into the gallery, sirens were heard outside. The crowd went crazy, for outside there was an ambulance accompanied by a motorcycle escort. Frida Kahlo was being carried from it into her exhibition on a hospital stretcher! The photographers and reporters were shocked. She was placed in her bed in the middle of the gallery. The mob of people went to greet her. Frida told jokes, entertained the crowd, sang, and drank the whole evening. The exhibition was an amazing success.

During the same year as her exhibition, Frida had to have her right leg amputated below the knee due to a gangrene infection. This caused her to become deeply depressed and suicidal.

She attempted suicide a couple of times. In 1954, suffering from pneumonia, Kahlo went to a Communist march to protest the U.S. subversion of the left-wing Guatemalan government. Four days later, she died in what may or may not have been a suicide. No official autopsy was done.

Her last words in her diary read "I hope the leaving is joyful and I hope never to return".


Mamta said...

Really touching, especially the quote, "I paint myself because I am so often alone, because I am the subject I know best."

Bhavna said...

I agree! She has something so special that you cannot be untouched by her.

Rositta said...

Thank you for visiting my blog. I enjoyed reading your post. I know very little about her, maybe that needs to change...ciao

Bhavna said...

Hello Rositta!

Thanks for letting your presence known here. I am truly struck by Frida's work and inspired to totally enjoy whatever I do.

I am glad you visited my blog for you are extremely talented and I am impressed by originality of your work. May be some of it may rub off on me!

Preeti said...

That was such a wonderful story of such an everyday woman but one who was determined to capture her emotions through art - timeless. I don't paint, but I enjoyed reading about Frida.

Bhavna said...

Hello Preeti,

Thanks for visiting the blog. She sure was an immense inspiration.

Keep coming,

Jenny Leggings said...

Wow I love her work and own a copy of her biography I studied her work whilst I was at art college Im so glad that other people appreciate her work too!!

Bhavna said...

Hello Jenny,

Thanks for your comments!

Her work is very intense. This blog post was an attempt to show everyone how I felt towards her work. I guess appreciation, shock, and respect all mixed together!

Keep writing,

AndreaInBlue said...

I really need to get a biography... she's such a fascinating artist. I'm so happy I was able to visit her house when I was in Mexico several years ago.