Frida Kahlo - "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

Art has always been a big part of my life, I love to view it, research it and make it!

Whilst studying I always loved to fill book after book with the research & development of my creative processes. And if I could, I would love to go back to University & train to be an art teacher. But meanwhile I've decided to experiment a bit with this whole blogging thing and post about some of my favourite artists/those artists I stumble upon and fall instantly in love with, here!

First up is Frida Kahlo, it would have been her birthday last Saturday so it only seems right to start with her. Plus, she is way up there on my list of favourite artists and she is an inspiration to so many!

The autobiographical elements of Frida Kahlo's work is the thing that makes them stand out the most to me, they tell the stories of her life - the ups and the downs, and they are very personal pieces of work. It is also the honesty in her portraits that attracts me to her, the fact that she makes no effort to change her appearance to how society expects, her posture is always tall and proud, and her eyes stare straight through the painting to the viewer, she was indeed a strong courageous woman!
Frida on White Bench, 1939. Photograph by Nickolas Muray
Frida Kahlo de Rivera was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón on July 6th 1907 in Coyoacán, Mexico.

At the age of 18 she was involved in an accident - the bus she was travelling in collided with a trolley car - this left her recovering for 3 months in a full body cast. It was around this time that she began painting to occupy her time, her mother had a special easel made so that she could paint in bed, and her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life. Of her 143 paintings, 55 of these are self-portraits.

"I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best."
Self-Portrait, 1940.
She was described as having "slight flaws that increased her magnetism" - the eyebrow that formed an unbroken line across her forehead and the shadow of a moustache on her top lip. Her work is celebrated for its uncompromising depiction of the female form and experience. 

In 1929 she married the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, with whom she had an often troubled marriage. Both were active communists and it was he who encouraged her artistic development.
Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
Frida's work was drawn predominantly from her own personal experiences: her turbulent marriage with Diego Rivera, her miscarriages and want for a child, and the many operations she had over her lifetime.

The Two Fridas, below, was created at the time of her divorce to Diego. It is believed to depict her hurt at losing Diego. The Frida sat on the right is the Frida that Diego still loved, her heart is still whole, she is dressed in her usual Tehuana dress and holds a miniature portrait of Diego in her hand. The Frida on the left is the Frida that Diego no longer loves. Her heart is broken and she wears a European dress. The surgical pincers she holds depict the severing of emotional ties between Frida and Diego, she is stopping the shared blood flow.
The Two Fridas, 1939.
It is evident in Frida's work that she was also greatly inspired by Mexican culture - this is clear in her use of dramatic symbolism and bright colours, leading her work to be characterised both as "folk art" and "surrealist" (although Diego would argue that Frida was in fact a "realist"). Her work is celebrated in Mexico for its representation of national and indigenous tradition. 

"I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."
Self-Portrait, 1940.
Frida regularly included monkeys in her work, these were her pets and at times seemed to appear as a substitute to children. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are a symbol of lust, however Frida portrayed them as a protective symbol, as a tender being.
This is perhaps a contrasting element to the suggestions of pain in many of her self-portraits.

Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, below, was painted by Frida shortly after her divorce from Diego. In many of her previous self-portraits she had often painted herself in traditional Mexican dresses, with long flowing hair; now she painted herself with her hair all chopped off and wearing an oversized man's suit, presumably Diego's. This was her way of renouncing her marriage to Diego.
Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair, 1940.
Frida died a few days after turning 47, on 13th July 1954, and sadly her work was not to be widely acclaimed until the late 70s/early 80s, decades after her death, when the artistic style Neomexicanismo began.
Fulang-Chang and I, 1937. On display in MOMA, NYC.
I was very happy to be able to see one of Frida Kahlo's original paintings whilst in New York. This was on display at MOMA (The Museum of Modern Art). One day however, I hope to make it to Mexico and to The Blue House!

If you are fascinated by Frida Kahlo too, I highly recommend reading Frida: A biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera. At nearly 500 pages of text it isn't a light read, but it is filled with beautiful pages of photographs and paintings. It is so wonderfully interesting and a great insight in to the life of the world's greatest female artist. 

More Information about Frida Kahlo:

- Frida would give her date of birth as July 7th 1910 (the year of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution), so that her life began with the birth of modern Mexico.

- She dropped the "e" from Frieda in 1935.

- Her home in Coyoacán, Mexico was called La Casa Azul which translates as The Blue House. This now houses the Frida Kahlo Museum, or Museo Frida Kahlo.

- When Frida was only 6 years old she contracted Polio, which left her right leg thinner than the left, this she disguised later by wearing long colourful skirts. She would often dress in the elaborate Tehuana costumes of Indian Maidens.

- She originally planned to study medicine but this was abandoned after her accident.

- As a result of her accident, she suffered many serious injuries. She suffered a broken spinal column, collarbone, ribs and pelvis, a dislocated shoulder, 11 fractures in her right leg, and a crushed & dislocated right foot. A handrail of the trolley also pierced her abdomen and her uterus, preventing Frida from having a child.

- She had as many as 35 operations in her life time.

- She had numerous pets - dogs, monkeys, cats, parrots, doves, an eagle, and a deer.

- Diego and Frida divorced in November 1939, but remarried in December 1940.

- Frida was bi-sexual and had affairs with both men and women.

- Frida's official cause of death was given as a pulmonary embolism, although an autopsy was never performed. Some suspect she died from an overdose.

- The year before her death her right leg was amputated at the knee.

- Her ashes are on display in her former home, La Casa Azul, in a pre-Columbian urn.

- On June 21, 2001, she became the first Hispanic woman to be honoured with a U.S. postage stamp.

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