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Artists Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo

Mexican Painter

Movement: Surrealism

Born: July 6, 1907 - Coyoacan, Mexico City, Mexico

Died: July 13, 1954 - Mexico City, Mexico

Quotes

"I really don't know whether my paintings are Surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the most honest expression of myself, taking no account of the opinions and prejudices of others."
Frida Kahlo
"There is nothing more precious than laughter and scorn. Strength lies in laughing and letting oneself go. In being cruel and superficial. Tragedy is the most ridiculous feature of 'Man', yet I am sure that animals, though they 'suffer', do not parade their grief in 'theatres' either open or 'closed'."
Frida Kahlo
"My head is full of microscopic spiders, and innumerable tiny vermin... I can't get anything straight inside the big realité without moving directly onto a collision course; either I have to hang my clothes from thin air, or I have to bring distant things perilously, fatally close. You'll sort it out with your ruler and compass."
Frida Kahlo
"Respond to my love with a mighty epistle, that will cheer the saddened heart that beats for you from here, louder than you could ever imagine. Just listen to it: TIC-TAC TIC-TAC TIC-TAC TIC-TAC! Literature is hopeless at portraying things, at conveying the full volume of inner noises, so it's not my fault if instead of my heart you hear only a broken clock."
Frida Kahlo
"I was considered a Surrealist. That's not right. I've never painted dreams. What I showed was my reality."
Frida Kahlo
"I have suffered two grave accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar knocked me down.. The other accident is Diego."
Frida Kahlo

"I've done my paintings well... and they have a message of pain in them, but I think they'll interest a few people. They're not revolutionary, so why do I keep on believing they're combative?"

Synopsis

Frida Kahlo's work was influenced by traumatic physical and psychological events from her childhood and early adulthood, including a crippling accident and the infidelity of her husband. In addition to personal issues, Kahlo's often brooding and introspective subject matter also deals with questions of national identity. Her mixed ancestry - Mexican and German - provided a rich source of subject matter, particularly during the Second World War, when Kahlo changed the spelling of her first name to one that was less Germanic. Her works are often categorized as Surrealist because of her sometimes bizarre and disturbing themes, but unlike the Surrealists, Kahlo was not interested in subject matter derived from dreams or the subconscious - her art was almost always starkly autobiographical. In later life, she was forced to rely on painkillers that affected the quality of her output. She has now become a cultural icon and is especially revered in her home country for her focus on her Mexican identity, or Mexicanidad.

Key Ideas

Using her personal tragedies - both physical and psychological - combined with a realistic painting style, Kahlo produced images that were emotionally raw and visually disturbing. Her artistic output was dominated by self-portraits that often show the artist suffering.
Kahlo's interest in her own mixed German-Mexican ancestry in conjunction with the influence of her husband's strong nationalism in his own art meant that many of Kahlo's works dealt with combined issues of national identity, her husband's looming presence as an artist in his own right, and/or her role as La Mexicana, the traditional Mexican woman and wife.
Though not an official member of Surrealism, Kahlo's bizarre imagery along with her linear style was reminiscent of Surrealists such as Salvador Dalí with the difference being that Kahlo's subject matter was deeply personal rather than humorous or intellectual. She was not interested in automatic writing, biomorphism, dreams or the subconscious, all of which provided a focus for Surrealism.
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Most Important Art

The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas) (1939)
This double self-portrait is one of Kahlo's most recognized compositions, and is symbolic of the artist's pain during her divorce from Rivera and the subsequent transitioning of her constructed identity. On the right, the artist is shown in modern European attire, wearing the costume she donned prior to her marriage to Rivera. Throughout their marriage, given Rivera's strong nationalism, Kahlo became increasingly interested in indigenism and began to explore traditional Mexican costume, which she wears in the portrait on the left. It is the Mexican Kahlo that holds a locket with an image of Rivera. The stormy sky in the background, and the artist's bleeding heart - a fundamental symbol of Catholicism and also symbolic of Aztec ritual sacrifice - accentuate Kahlo's personal tribulation and physical pain. Symbolic elements frequently possess multiple layers of meaning in Kahlo's pictures; the recurrent theme of blood represents both metaphysical and physical suffering, gesturing also to the artist's ambivalent attitude toward accepted notions of womanhood and fertility.
Oil on canvas - Museum of Modern Art, Mexico City, Mexico
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Biography

Childhood

Frida Kahlo (Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo Calderon) was born in what is now known as Casa Azul in Coyoacan, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City. Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was German, and had moved to Mexico at a young age where he remained for the rest of his life, eventually taking over the photography business of Kahlo's mother's family. Kahlo's mother, Matilde Calderon y Gonzalez, born of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, was Wilhelm's second wife, and raised Frida and her five sisters in a strict and religious household. Aside from her mother's rigidity and tendency toward hysteric outbursts, several events in Kahlo's childhood affected her psyche for the rest of her life. At age six, Kahlo contracted polio and was forced to remain in bed for nine months, walking with a limp after recovery. Wilhelm, with whom Kahlo was very close, enrolled his daughter at the German College in Mexico City and introduced Kahlo to the writings of European philosophers such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Friedrich Schiller, and Arthur Schopenhauer. Kahlo's mixed European and Mexican heritage permanently affected the artist's approach to her life and artwork. Following the Mexican Revolution and Minister of Education Jose Vasconcelos's new education policy, in 1922, Kahlo was one of 35 girls admitted to the National Preparatory School, where she planned to study medicine, botany, and the social sciences. The artist befriended a dissident group of students known as the Cachuchas, who confirmed Kahlo's rebellious spirit and her interest in poetry and literature. In 1925, Kahlo was involved in a nearly fatal bus accident, where she suffered multiple fractures throughout her body and a crushed pelvis. She spent nine months in the hospital, immobile and bound in a plaster corset. During her long recovery she began experimenting in small-scale autobiographical portraiture, permanently abandoning her medical pursuits.

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Early Training

Photo of Frida Kahlo

Kahlo's early training was drawn from an eclectic mix of influences. As a child in her father's photography studio, she learned to work in a small format with a meticulous attention to minute details. This acute pictorial realism influenced the artist's intensity of approach to psychological portraiture. During her years at the National Preparatory School, Kahlo also took drawing lessons in Fernando Fernandez's studio where she acquired training in draftsmanship. At age 15, Kahlo witnessed Diego Rivera painting the Creation mural (1922) in the amphitheater of the Preparatory School, a moment of infatuation and fascination for the young artist that she would pursue later in life. But, despite these directions, Kahlo's most influential early experimentation with painting was during the months of convalescence at home after her bus accident. Gifted with a set of paints from her father, Kahlo spent hours studying herself, and more importantly, confronting existential questions raised by her trauma such as dissociation from identity, death, and interiority. The duality of autobiographical content - both the physical experience and interiority of the person - evolved as the central qualities of Kahlo's painting practice. In 1927, slowly recovering, Kahlo was forced to contribute to her family's expenses and her medical bills. In contact with her friends from the Cachuchas group, Kahlo began to familiarize herself with the artistic and Communist circles in Mexico City, including figures such as the militant photo-journalist Tina Modotti and the Cuban revolutionary Julio Antonio Mella. In 1928, having officially joined the Mexican Communist Party, Kahlo sought out Diego Rivera in order to discuss a possible career as an artist. One year later, the two married and moved to Cuernavaca where Kahlo devoted herself to indigenous themes in painting, at times even embodying Mexican folkloric rituals wearing a traditional Tehuana costume for her spouse.

Mature Period

Photo of Frida Kahlo with Diego Rivera

By the early 1930s, Kahlo's painting evolved to include a more assertive sense of Mexican identity, a facet of her artwork that stemmed from her exposure to the modernist indigenist movement in Mexico and her interest in preserving the revival of Mexicanidad during the rise of fascism in Europe. Kahlo's interest in distancing herself from her Germanic roots is evidenced in her change of name from Frieda to Frida. Concurrently, two failed pregnancies in the early 1930s, in addition to the revival of Mexican folkloric expression such as the ex-voto, contributed to Kahlo's simultaneously harsh and beautiful representation of the female experience through symbolism and autobiography. Throughout the 1930s, life in Mexico was tense for Kahlo: Rivera was an unfaithful husband and the revolutionary climate leading up to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War made for an explosive atmosphere. Kahlo separated from Rivera in 1935, renting a flat in Mexico City, and began a short-lived affair with the Japanese sculptor Isamu Noguchi. The following year, Kahlo joined the Fourth International and returned to the Casa Azul, which became a meeting point for international intellectuals, artists, and activists and where she ensured the safety of Leon Trotsky and his wife. Several of Kahlo's masterpieces, including The Two Fridas (1939), were painted in the late1930s and early 19s and reflect the difficulty of this period. In a visit to Mexico City in 1938, the founder of Surrealism, André Breton, was enchanted with Kahlo's painting, and hosted the artist's first exhibition in Paris in 1939 at Galerie Renou et Colle. The show was enormously successful; however, the Western, romanticized vision of pastoral Mexico by members of the European bourgeois disgusted Kahlo, though she would exhibit with the Surrealists in the Mexico City exhibition Apparition: the Great Sphinx of the Night in January 1940, which was considered the first international exhibition of Surrealism in the Americas.

Late Years and Death

Frida Kahlo Art

Following Trotsky's assassination, Kahlo joined Rivera in San Francisco in September of 1940. Kahlo had fallen ill, and was treated by her private doctor, Dr. Eloesser. Kahlo remarried Rivera shortly after, and, returned to Mexico City, where the two maintained separate flats. Kahlo continued to dote on her muse, sending him love notes wherever he was working. Throughout the 1940s, the artist's work grew in notoriety and acclaim from international collectors, and was included in several group shows in Mexico. In 1946, Kahlo received a national prize for her painting Moses, and the year after she was offered a teaching position at La Esmeralda. Meanwhile, the artist grew progressively ill from from the long-term effects of her childhood traumas. By June 1946, Kahlo could no longer remain upright and underwent an unsuccessful bone-graft operation on her spine in New York. In 1950, Kahlo was again hospitalized for nine months at the English Hospital in Mexico. Kahlo continued to paint in her final years while also maintaining her political activism, protesting nuclear testing by Western powers. Kahlo exhibited one last time in Mexico in 1953 at Lola Alvarez Bravo's gallery, the artist's first solo show in Mexico. She was brought to the event in an ambulance and had her four-poster bed placed at the center of the gallery. Kahlo died on July 13, 1954 at Casa Azul, which is today the Frida Kahlo Museum.

Legacy

A strong individualist who was disengaged from any official artistic movement, Kahlo's artwork has been associated with primitivism, indigenism, and Surrealism. Posthumously, Kahlo's artwork has grown profoundly influential for feminist studies and postcolonial debates, while Kahlo has become an international cultural icon. The artist's celebrity status for mass audiences has resulted in the compartmentalization of the artist's work as representative of interwar Latin American artwork at large, distanced from the complexities of Kahlo's deeply personal subject matter. Recent exhibitions, such as Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo (2014) at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago have attempted to reframe Kahlo's cultural significance by underscoring her lasting impact on the politics of the body and Kahlo's challenge to mainstream aesthetics of representation.


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Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Frida Kahlo
Interactive chart with Frida Kahlo's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Diego Rivera
Jose Clemente Orozco
David Alfaro Siqueiros

Friends

Tina Modotti
Leon Trotsky
Bertram Wolfe

Movements

Surrealism
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo
Years Worked: 1929-54

Artists

André Breton
Georgia O'Keeffe
Leo Matiz
Nickolas Muray

Friends

Julien Levy
Emmy Lou Packard
Lola Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Alvarez Bravo

Movements

Surrealism
Feminist Movement

Content compiled and written by Katlyn Beaver

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
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Useful Resources on Frida Kahlo

Books
Websites
Articles
Audio
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo

By Hayden Herrera

written by artist
The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait

By Carlos Fuentes

Frida by Frida

By Frida Kahlo and Raquel Tibol

Why Contemporary Art Is Unimaginable Without Frida Kahlo

By Priscilla Frank
The Huffington Post
April 29, 2014

Diary of a Mad Artist

By Amy Fine Collins
Vanity Fair
July 2011

The People's Artist, Herself a Work of Art

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
February 29, 2008

Let Fridamania Commence

By Adrian Searle
The Guardian
June 6, 2005

in pop culture
Frida

A 2002 Biographical Film on Frida Kahlo, Starring Salma Hayek

The Frida Kahlo Corporation

A Company with Products Inspired by Frida Kahlo

Surrealism
Surrealism
Surrealism
Perhaps the most influential avant-garde movement of the century, Surrealism was founded in Paris in 1924 by a small group of writers and artists who sought to channel the unconscious as a means to unlock the power of the imagination. Much influenced by Freud, they believed that the conscious mind repressed the power of the imagination. Influenced also by Marx, they hoped that the psyche had the power to reveal the contradictions in the everyday world and spur on revolution.
ArtStory: Surrealism
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí
Salvador Dalí was a Spanish Surrealist painter who combined a hyperrealist style with dream-like, sexualized subject matter. His collaborations with Hollywood and commercial ventures, alongside his notoriously dramatic personality, earned him scorn from some Surrealist colleagues.
ArtStory: Salvador Dalí
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera
Diego Rivera was the principal actor in the Mexican Muralism movement and one of Mexico's greatest artists. His large-scale fresco cycles tell the histories of labor, industry, society, and other themes.
ArtStory: Diego Rivera
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi
Isamu Noguchi was a Japanese-American modern artist. best known for his organic, biomorphic sculpture works, Noguchi was also a furniture designer and landscape artist.
ArtStory: Isamu Noguchi
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton
André Breton, author of the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, was an influential theorizer of both Dada and Surrealism. Born in France, he emigrated to New York during World War II, where he greatly influenced the Abstract Expressionists.
ArtStory: André Breton
Jose Clemente Orozco
Jose Clemente Orozco
Jose Clemente Orozco
Jose Clemente Orozco was a Mexican Muralist, a social realist painter who is best known for his large-scale expansive works depicting human toil, Mexican politics, and the advent of the industrial age.
ArtStory: Jose Clemente Orozco
David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros
David Alfaro Siqueiros
Jose David Alfaro Siquieros was a Mexican social realist painter, an active member of the Mexican Communist Party, and one of three artists - along with Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco - who gave rise to the Mexican Mural Renaissance in the early twentieth century. Siqueiros's large-scale fresco murals are defined by their anti-Fascist politics and near expressionistic aesthetic.
ArtStory: David Alfaro Siqueiros
Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti
Tina Modotti was a twentieth-century Italian photographer, actress, model and political activist. She is perhaps best known for documenting the artistic practices of Mexican muralists Diego Rivera and Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as for her photographic work with architectural interiors, landscapes and urban scenes. Modotti was also an active member of the Mexican Communist Party. Her untimely death from heart failure at age 42 is something that remains highly suspicious.
Tina Modotti
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky
Leon Trotsky was a Russian revolutionary and Marxist theorist. In October 1917, Trotksy and Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik Revolution that eventually helped form the Soviet Union. In the years that followed, Trotsky founded and led the Red Army, and was an original member of the Politburo, the Soviet governing body. As a leading leftist and political contrarian, Trotksy was eventually banished from Russia and assassinated on the order of Premier Joseph Stalin, his biggest political and ideological rival.
Leon Trotsky
Bertram Wolfe
Bertram Wolfe
Bertram Wolfe
Bertram Wolfe was a Jewish-American writer and former Communist activist (eventually opposing the Party because of Stalin), best known for his biographies on such subjects as Lenin, Trotsky and Diego Rivera. A Brooklyn native, Wolfe was a founding member of the Communist Party of America, and later became a delegate in Mexico for that nation's Communist party.
Bertram Wolfe
Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe
Georgia O'Keeffe was an American painter best known for her depictions of flowers, animal skulls, landscapes, and still lifes. Married to photographer Alfred Stieglitz, she was an important member of the "Stieglitz circle" and early American modernism.
ArtStory: Georgia O'Keeffe
Leo Matiz
Leo Matiz
Leo Matiz
Leo Matiz, a high profile Colombian photographer, caricaturist and gallery owner, is known for his close friendships with many artists and intellectuals at the center of the avant-garde in cities such as Bogota and Mexico City. He extensively photographed Frida Kahlo among and Diego Rivera, and his pictures appeared in publications such as Harper Magazine.
Leo Matiz
Nickolas Muray
Nickolas Muray
Nickolas Muray
Nickolas Muray, a 20th century Hungarian-American photographer, is best known for his celebrity portrait photographs, having completed over 10,000 portraits between 1920-1940 for publications like Vogue and The New York Times. His work debuted in Harper's Bazaar in 1921 with his photograph of Florence Reed, and his most celebrated portrait is the famous 1938 photograph of Frida Kahlo.
Nickolas Muray
Julien Levy
Julien Levy
Julien Levy
Julien Levy was an influential 20th century New York art dealer, gallery owner, and collector. His New York gallery venue served as an important exhibition venue for the Surrealists and avant-garde figures during the interwar period. In 1937, he mounted the first solo exhibition of the work of Frida Kahlo at his new E 57th Street venue.
ArtStory: Julien Levy
Emmy Lou Packard
Emmy Lou Packard
Emmy Lou Packard
Emmy Lou Packard was an important American female fresco painter and printmaker. From 1927-28, Packard studied under Diego Rivera in Mexico eventually moving on to study at University of California, Berkeley and the California School of Fine Arts. Packard was friends with both Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, and assisted Rivera in painting the 1,650 square foot fresco at the Golden Gate International Exhibition in 1940.
Emmy Lou Packard
Lola Alvarez Bravo
Lola Alvarez Bravo
Lola Alvarez Bravo
Lola Alvarez Bravo was a Mexican documentary and portrait photographer and influential figure in the promotion of the post-revolution rebirth of culture and art in Mexico. Director of photography at the National Institute of Fine Arts and owner of a commercial gallery, Alvarez Bravo was the first figure to exhibit Kahlo's work in Mexico City.
Lola Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Alvarez Bravo is one of the most important figures in 20th century Latin American photography. Influenced by the indigenist aspects of Mexican muralism, Bravo's work evolved to explore the complexities of post-revolutionary symbolism in Mexican culture.
Manuel Alvarez Bravo
Feminist Movement
Feminist Movement
Feminist Movement
The movement emerged in the early twentieth century to define and achieve equal rights for women. The first organized movement was led by Western nations, but the issue of women's rights continue to be hot topics across the world.
Feminist Movement