Saturday, June 3, 2017

FRIDA KAHLO: THE WOMAN AND HER ART



A bigger-than-life mural of Frida Kahlo as seen at Los Muertos Beach, Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.





Here Frida and Fulang are portrayed in the Madonnari Chalk Festival in Puerto Vallarta where she is certainly looking a lot like Salma Hayek who portrayed her in the 2002 film FRIDA.


Many years ago I was introduced to Frida Kahlo in the incredible biography “Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo" written by Hayden Herrera and published by Harper & Row, copyright 1983. I read this fascinating book shortly after we moved to Puerto Vallarta in the late 1990's and I have never forgotten it. I was captivated by Frida Kahlo who in my opinion was a phenomenal woman. She was an extremely strong person who suffered immense physical pain and great emotional distress, but through these sufferings she produced unique paintings and her art became recognized and acclaimed throughout the art world of not only México, but internationally as well.



    Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera
                                             

Fast forward many years to the present and with the wonders of the Internet I decided to learn more about this intriguing woman. The urge was no doubt inspired by a recent visit to Mexico City where I also became interested in Diego Rivera, the well-known Mexican artist and muralist, and the two-time husband of Frida Kahlo. At the much appreciated suggestion of my husband, I will be publishing my Frida post before the Diego Rivera post.  Maybe because women should go first!


Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón: Woman of flowers on her head, colorful traditional dress, and prominent brow.


Frida Kahlo de Rivera was born in 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico, an area of nearby Mexico City. Christened Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón and was to become a well-known Mexican painter best known for her self-portraits. Frida was the oldest of four sisters.  Her mother was Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez and was of Mexican-Spanish ancestry and her father, Guillermo Kahlo, was of German ancestry.   Frida was the victim of a horrific accident at the age of eighteen. The injuries she incurred would cause her painful suffering for her entire life which ended at the age of forty seven in 1954.   Frida was married twice to Diego Rivera, the very popular and lauded Mexican artist, from 1929-1939 and from 1940-1954, the year of her death.




The more I learned, the more I wanted to share her amazing life. Frida Kahlo was a woman of extreme magnetism and originality, an artist whose sensual vibrancy came straight from her own experiences: her childhood near Mexico City during the Mexican Revolution; a devastating accident at age eighteen which left her crippled and unable to bear children; her tempestuous marriage to muralist Diego Rivera, and intermittent love affairs with men as diverse as Isamu Noguchi and Leon Trotsky; her association through Rivera with the Communist party; her absorption in Mexican folklore and culture; and her dramatic love of spectacle.





The self-taught Mexican painter, Frida Kahlo, today represents empowerment, freedom, intelligence, and personality. She was the embodiment of modern day feminism way before its time who also dressed with pride in being a Mexican. Frida was, if nothing else, a passionate and dreamy woman who lived life to the fullest. Today Frida Kahlo is recognized as one of the greatest Mexican painters of all time. Her large collection of work is almost exactly a metaphorical statement of her own often difficult, painful, and tumultuous personal life. Frida Kahlo's incredible body of work is admired and valued not only in Mexico, but internationally as well.




Kahlo left behind a sizable collection of intriguing art work. In this blog posting I will attempt to share some of the joy and also the pain of Kahlo’s life through her striking art. Frida declared that her art was not surrealistic nor did it reflect dreams in spite of what they might seem. Her paintings were representations of her own life and emotions and she is quoted as saying “Me pinto a mí misma porque soy a quien mejor conozco.” (I paint myself because I'm the one I know best.)




The following are some of her most famous paintings which are a metaphorical description of her personal life and not always easy to understand or look at. In fact much of her work I find quite disturbing and shocking, but also intriguing. Get ready, because you are in for quite an experience if you react to her art and her personal life in any way like I have.




La Columna Rota (the broken column)

Pain and suffering is a constant topic in Frida's painting. In this painting Frida expressed her anguish and suffering in a most straightforward and horrifying way. The nails are stuck into her face and whole body. A split in her torso which looks like an earthquake fissure. In the background is the earth with dark ravines.  A broken column is put in place of her spine. The column appears to be on the verge of collapsing into rubble. Penetrating from loins to chin the column looks phallic and the sexual connotation is all the more obvious because of the beauty of Frida's breasts and torso.

In this painting Frida looks pretty and strong. Although her whole body is supported by the corset, she is conveying a message of spiritual triumph. She has tears on her face, but she looks straight ahead and is challenging both herself and her audience to face her situation.






Frida y Diego Rivera (Frida and Diego Rivera)

In Frida's painting of her and Diego she recorded the up and downs of her marriage. She drew this painting, Frida and Diego Rivera, in 1931 as a wedding portrait. It was completed after two years of their conjugal life. In this painting Frida adopted the stiff pose which was an influence of naive nineteenth-century painters such as Jose Maria Estrada whose work also influenced Diego Rivera.
She is holding his hand with the lightest possible clasp as Frida understood that Diego belonged to nobody.

Later Frida was to remark: "Being the wife of Diego is the most marvelous thing in the world ... I let him play matrimony with other women. Diego is not any one's husband and never will be, but he is a great comrade." Nevertheless, she wanted to be his favorite comrade. In the exact center of her wedding portrait are the couple's hands holding together. The turning point of Frida's life was the marriage bond.




Autorretrato con el pelo suelto (Self-portrait with lose hair)

In 1946 Frida's health got worse and she made a trip to New York for a spinal fusion surgery. This operation was called "the beginning of the end" by Frida Kahlo since after this operation her condition continue getting worse and worse. This self-portrait was painted while she was recovering from this surgery. Frida was exhausted and it was reflected in this painting. The legend on the scroll at the bottom of this painting reads:

"Here I painted myself, Frida Kahlo, with my reflection in the mirror. I am 37 years old and this is July, 1947 in Coyoacán, Mexico, the place where I was born," She stated herself as "37 years old" in the inscription, but her real age was 40 at the time this portrait was painted. In this painting Frida depicted herself with a large volume of loose hair. This was probably because she wanted to please Diego Rivera since he is obsessed with her long hair.




Autorretrato en la frontera entre México y EEUU  (Self-portrait at the border between Mexico and the US)

When Diego was invited to work in the US both he and Frida stayed there for almost three years. Diego loved his new life in a place where his talent was appreciated. But for Frida the new country lost its charm quickly.

Frida missed Mexico and wanted to go back. Out of those feelings emerged this painting. Frida is in the center of the picture on a pedestal wearing a simple pink dress. The background is full of images that evoke both countries. On one side her vision of Mexico is represented by nature, vibrant color, and images of the Aztec culture. On the other side are images of industry and technology in the United Sates. Kahlo holds in her hand a little Mexican flag signifying the place where her heart belongs.

In her painting she is dressed up in an uncharacteristically sweet pink frock and lace gloves, but she herself is far from demure. As in her first self-portrait, her nipples show beneath her bodice. Her face is poised for mischief again in defiance of propriety she holds a cigarette. She also holds a small Mexican flag which tells us where her loyalties lie.





Hospital Henry Ford en los Estados Unidos (Henry Ford Hospital in the United States)

In this painting Frida depicts herself in Henry Ford Hospital lying on bed naked with blood after a spontaneous miscarriage. The body is twisted and the bed is tipped up and that adds to the feelings of helplessness and disconnection. The discomfort is also shown with the way she painted her body: from the waist up she turns toward the viewer and from the waist down she turns away.

 There are six objects flying around her. A male fetus which is the son of her and Diego she has longed to have. The fetus which is based on a medical illustration. An orchid which looks like an uterus. The stomach she hold against to the red ribbons and they looks like umbilical cords. The snail is the symbol of the slowness of the operation.

This painting is also the first Frida painted on tin metal. Diego Rivera wanted to improve Frida's mood after the miscarriage and encouraged her to try to paint on tin panels. He suggested her to paint the years of her life if she cannot find other subjects to paint. This painting mixed reality and fantasy and was painted in a very straightforward style.






Autorretrato con collar de espinas (Self portrait with Necklace of Thorns)

This painting was painted by Frida Kahlo in 1940 during a time of crisis in her marriage. It has drawn a lot of interest since it contains so many aspects which are symbolic of her life. In this portrait Frida Kahlo faces the viewer with a background of large green leaves and a yellow leaf right behind her. The thorns are around her neck like a necklace which is held by a black monkey. Her neck is bleeding from the piercing thorns. On right side behind her shoulder is a black cat. A humming bird is hanging on the thorn which knots around her throat.Her expression is calm and solemn. It seems as though she is patiently enduring pain.

Frida Kahlo used many symbolic creatures in this painting. She was not painting a realistic scene, but using these symbolic elements to express her feelings. A bird is often symbolize freedom and life. Especially hummingbird which is colorful and always hovering above flowers. But in this painting the humming bird is black and lifeless. This might be a symbol of Frida herself. Frida spent most of her life in physical pain after the bus accident happened when she was eighteen. After that accident she endured about thirty-five operations to fix her body. She spent many years bedridden and could not bear any children. This is a painting about her suffering.






Las Dos Fridas (The Two Fridas)

This painting was completed shortly after her divorce with Diego Rivera. This portrait shows Frida's two different personalities. One is the traditional Frida in Tehuana costume, with a broken heart, sitting next to an independent, modern dressed Frida on the right.  In Frida's dairy, she wrote about this painting and said it is originated from her memory of an imaginary childhood friend. Later she admitted it expressed her desperation and loneliness with the separation from Diego.

In this painting, the two Fridas are holding hands. They both have visible hearts and the heart of the traditional Frida is cut and torn open. The main artery, which comes from the torn heart down to the right hand of the traditional Frida, is cut off by the surgical pincers held in the lap of the traditional Frida. The blood keeps dripping on her white dress and she is in danger of bleeding to death. The stormy sky filled with agitated clouds may reflect Frida's inner turmoil.

In 1947, this painting was acquired by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Institute of Fine Arts) in Mexico City. The purchase price was 4,000 Pesos (about $1,000) at that time and an additional 36 Pesos for the frame. That was the highest price that Frida was ever paid for a painting during her brief lifetime.





Diego en Mis Pensamientos (Diego in My Thoughts)

Despite their divorce, Frida never stopped loving Diego. She knew her ex-husband wouldn’t give up having affairs with other women and he would never be able to be the husband she desired. However, she still had place for him in her heart and her paintings.

In this self-portrait she painted his face on her forehead in place of the third eye. Frida wears an elaborate tehuana Mexican dress (from the Isthmus of Tehauntepec on the Pacific coast of Mexico, state of Oaxaca).  This painting expresses Frida's desire to posses Diego Rivera who continues betraying her with his affairs with other women.

Around her face the whole painting is full of cracks symbolizing the marks in her soul. This painting was painted in August of 1940 when she and Diego Rivera divorced. She didn't finish this painting until the year of 1943.





Pobre Venadito (Poor little Deer)

There’s a way to know when a painting by Kahlo expresses a feeling of unbearable pain. In those cases, Frida was unable to replicate the suffering in her own body and therefore she used other images. In this case, she drew a deer with her face on it. The poor animal’s body is fully pierced by arrows. It is alone and injured in the middle of the forest.  Frida painted this picture after spinal surgery in 1946 in New York City which she had hoped would lessen her pain, but it resulted in even more physical pain and emotional depression.

In this painting she depicted herself as a young stag with her own head crowned with antlers. This young stag is pierced by arrows and bleeding. At the lower-left corner, the artist wrote the word "Carma" (Karma in English which means "destiny" or "fate.") Frida used her pet deer "Granizo" as the model when she painted this portrait. She had many pets which she used as her surrogate children and deer were her favorite.

The background is the forest with dead trees and broken branches which implied her feeling of fear and desperation. Far away is the stormy lightning-lit sky which brings some hope, but the dear will never be able to reach it.




El abrazo de amor del Universo (the Loving Embrace of the Universe)

Many elements make this painting a Mexican representation of day and night, the moon and the sun, life and death, and Mother Nature. In the center of the picture we see Frida hugging a naked and childish Diego Rivera illustrating the great love she had for her husband. At the same time, the image reminds us of Frida’s inability to procreate which undoubtedly was the great wound in her life.

As the years went on, Frida took a more and more motherly role in relation to her husband Diego Rivera. She confided her maternal feelings to her journal: "At every moment he is my child, my child born every moment, diary, from myself." Here Frida is the earth mother/Madonna nurturing the baby she could never have, her "Dieguito" (little Diego).

Yet for all Frida's contentment in possessing her spouse, she knew as she wrote in 1949 that "Diego has never been and never will be any one's husband." Although she looks calm, tears dot her cheeks and a bright red crevasse cracks open her neck and chest and from it a magical fountain of milk sprays forth.


Self Portrait Time Flies - by Frida Kahlo


This is one of my favorite self-portraits of Frida Kahlo which she created in 1929 when she married Diego Rivera.  Maybe I like it so much is because it is in such contrast to her more famous self-portraits which can be quite shocking as you have previously seen.  In this painting Frida is dressed in lovely traditional Mexican dress which was the style Diego preferred and which he often used in his murals. The name of this self-portrait is "Time Flies" and it sold in 2000 for over $5,000,000.00 dollars in the United States of America!




This painting by Frida Kahlo is a portrait of Diego Rivera, her husband and famous Mexican muralist. This portrait was painted when Diego was fifty one years old, but he appears much younger in this painting. This portrait also shows Diego as much thinner because in realty he was tall and quite heavy.  Maybe appearance is all in the eyes of the beholder or Frida, the wife and painter, in this case?



Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, a couple who represented a magical age of self-expression in Mexican art.


As striking as Frida Kahlo's art is, I find the following quotes from Frida especially touching. These are some of my personal favorites which have been found in various documents including her notes, messages, drawings, and personal letters.  I think they are an appropriate closing for this posting and I hope you enjoy.

Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”- Frida Kahlo

"I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.”

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone, because I am the person I know best.”

"I tried to drown my sorrows, but the bastards learned how to swim, and now I am overwhelmed by this decent and good feeling.”

"Nothing is worth more than laughter. It is strength to laugh and to abandon oneself, to be light. Tragedy is the most ridiculous thing.”

"Live life".

"There have been two great accidents in my life. One was the trolley, and the other was Diego. Diego was by far the worst.”

"Doctor if you let me take this tequila I promise not to drink at my funeral."

"I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it's true I'm here, and I'm just as strange as you.”

The following link is to my album which shows Frida Kahlo in modern-day representations:

FRIDA KAHLO: THE MODERN ICON

For wonderful and rare photographs of Frida Kahlo go the the following:

RARE PHOTOGRAPHS OF FRIDA KAHLO



Postscript:  Frida Kahlo painting from bed

On September 17, 1925, Kahlo and Gómez Arias were traveling together on a bus when the vehicle collided with a streetcar. She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including 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. After staying at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for several weeks, Kahlo returned home to recuperate. She began painting during her recovery and finished her first self-portrait the following year. Simply incredible!



   Taking a timeout with Frida Kahlo in San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco, Mexico.  Reminder:   
   Memories are only a click away!