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Artists Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo Photo

Frida Kahlo

Mexican Painter

Movements and Styles: Surrealism, Magic Realism, Proto-Feminist Artists

Born: July 6, 1907 - Coyoacan, Mexico

Died: July 13, 1954 - Coyoacan, Mexico

Frida Kahlo Timeline

Quotes

"I paint self-portraits because I am so often alone... because I am the subject I know best."
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?"
Frida Kahlo
"They thought I was a Surrealist but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."
Frida Kahlo
"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 am not sick... I am broken... but I am happy to be alive as long as I can paint."
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 hope the Leaving is joyful - and I hope Never to return"
Frida Kahlo

"Feet what do I need them for if I have wings to fly?"

Frida Kahlo Signature

Synopsis

Small pins pierce Kahlo's skin to reveal that she still 'hurts' following illness and accident, whilst a signature tear signifies her ongoing battle with the related psychological overflow. Frida Kahlo typically uses the visual symbolism of physical pain in a long-standing attempt to better understand emotional suffering. Prior to Kahlo's efforts, the language of loss, death, and selfhood, had been relatively well investigated by some male artists (including Albrecht Durer, Francisco Goya, and Edvard Munch), but had not yet been significantly dissected by a woman. Indeed not only did Kahlo enter into an existing language, but she also expanded it and made it her own. By literally exposing interior organs, and depicting her own body in a bleeding and broken state, Kahlo opened up our insides to help explain human behaviors on the outside. She gathered together motifs that would repeat throughout her career, including ribbons, hair, and personal animals, and in turn created a new and articulate means to discuss the most complex aspects of female identity. As not only a 'great artist' but also a figure worthy of our devotion, Kahlo's iconic face provides everlasting trauma support and she has influence that cannot be underestimated.

Key Ideas

Kahlo made it legitimate for women to outwardly display their pains and frustrations and to thus make steps towards making sense of and understanding them. It became crucial for women artists to have a female role model and this is the gift of Frida Kahlo.
As an important question for many Surrealists, Kahlo too considers: What is Woman? Following repeated miscarriage, she asks to what extent does motherhood or the absence of this impact on female identity. She alters the meaning of maternal subjectivity irreversibly. It becomes clear through umbilical symbolism (often shown by ribbons) that Kahlo is connected to all that surrounds her, and that she is still a 'mother' without children.
Finding herself often alone, she worked obsessively with self-portraiture. Her reflection fuelled an unflinching interest in identity. She was particularly interested in her mixed German-Mexican ancestry, as well as in her divided roles as artist, lover, and wife.
Kahlo uses religious symbolism throughout her oeuvre. She appears as the Madonna holding her 'animal babies', and becomes the Virgin Mary as she cradles her husband and famous national painter Diego Rivera. She identifies with Saint Sebastian, and even fittingly appears as the martyred Christ. She positions herself as a prophet when she takes to head of the table in her Last Supper style painting, and her accident when impaled on a metal bar (and covered in gold dust when lying injured) recalls the crucifixion and suggests her own holiness.
Women prior to Kahlo who had attempted to communicate the wildest and deepest of emotions were often labeled hysterical or condemned insane - while men were alinged with the 'melancholy' character type. By remaining artistically active under the weight of sadness, Kahlo revealed that women too can be melancholy rather than depressed, and that these terms should not be thought of as gendered.

Biography

Frida Kahlo Photo

Childhood

Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo Calderon was born at La Casa Azul (The Blue House) in Coyoacan, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City in 1907. 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, was of mixed Spanish and Indian ancestry, and raised Frida and her three sisters in a strict and religious household (Frida also had two half sisters from her father's first marriage who were raised in a convent). La Casa Azul was not only Kahlo's childhood home, but also the place that she returned to live and work from 1939 until her death. It later opened as a National Museum dedicated to Kahlo.

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Frida Kahlo Biography Continues

Important Art by Frida Kahlo

The below artworks are the most important by Frida Kahlo - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931)

Frieda and Diego Rivera (1931)

Artwork description & Analysis: It is as if in this painting Kahlo tries on the role of wife to see how it fits. She does not focus on her identity as a painter, but instead adopts a passive and supportive role, holding the hand of her talented and acclaimed husband. It was indeed the case that during the majority of her painting career, Kahlo was viewed only in Rivera's shadow and it was not until later in life that she gained international recognition.

This early double-portrait was painted primarily to mark the celebration of Kahlo's marriage to Rivera. Whilst Rivera holds a palette and paint brushes, symbolic of his artistic mastery, Kahlo limits her role to his wife by presenting herself slight in frame and without her artistic accoutrements. Kahlo furthermore dresses in costume typical of the Mexican woman, or "La Mexicana," wearing a traditional red shawl known as the rebozo and jade Aztec beads. The positioning of the figures echoes that of traditional marital portraiture where the wife is placed on her husband's left to indicate her lesser moral status as a woman. In a drawing made the following year called Frida and the Miscarriage, the artist does hold her own palette, as though the experience of losing a fetus and not being able to create a baby shifts her determination wholly to the creation of art.

Oil on canvas - San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Henry Ford Hospital (1932)

Henry Ford Hospital (1932)

Artwork description & Analysis: Many of Kahlo's paintings from the early 1930s, especially in size, format, architectural setting and spatial arrangement, relate to religious ex-voto paintings of which she and Rivera possessed a large collection ranging in date over several centuries. Ex-votos are made as a gesture of gratitude for salvation, a granted prayer or disaster averted and left in churches or at shrines. Ex-votos are generally painted on small-scale metal panels and depict the incident along with the Virgin or saint to whom they are offered. Henry Ford Hospital of 1932, is a good example where the artist uses the ex-voto format but subverts it by placing herself centre stage, rather than recording the miraculous deeds of saints. Kahlo instead paints her own story, as though she becomes saintly and the work is made not as thanks to the lord but in defiance questioning why he brings her pain.

In this painting, Kahlo lies on a bed, bleeding after a miscarriage. From the exposed naked body six vein-like ribbons flow outwards, attached to symbols. One of these six objects is a fetus, suggesting that the ribbons could be a metaphor for umbilical cords. The other five objects that surround Frida are things that she remembers, or things that she had seen in the hospital. For example, the snail makes reference to the time it took for the miscarriage to be over, whist the flower was an actual physical object given to her by Diego. The artist demonstrates her need to be attached to all that surrounds her: to the mundane and metaphorical as much as the physical and actual. Perhaps it is through this reaching out of connectivity that the artist tries to be 'maternal', even though she is not able to have her own child.

Oil on canvas - Dolores Olmedo Collection, Mexico City, Mexico

My Birth (1932)

My Birth (1932)

Artwork description & Analysis: This is a haunting painting in which both the birth giver and the birthed child seem dead. The head of the woman giving birth is shrouded in white cloth while the baby emerging from the womb appears lifeless. At the time that Kahlo painted this work, her mother had just died so it seems reasonable to assume that the shrouded funerary figure is her mother while the baby is Kahlo herself (the title supports this reading). However, Kahlo had also just lost her own child and has said that she is the covered mother figure. The Virgin of Sorrows, who hangs above the bed suggests that this is an image that overflows with maternal pain and suffering. Also though, and revealingly, Kahlo wrote in her diary, next to several small drawings of herself, 'the one who gave birth to herself ... who wrote the most wonderful poem of her life.' Similar to the drawing, Frida and the Miscarriage, My Birth represents Kahlo mourning for the loss of a child, but also finding the strength to make powerful art because of such trauma.

The painting is made in a retablo (or votive) style (a small traditional Mexican painting derived from Catholic Church art) in which thanks would typically be given to the Madonna beneath the image. Kahlo instead leaves this section blank, as though she finds herself unable to give thanks either for her own birth, or for the fact that she is now unable to give birth. The painting seems to bring the message that it is important to acknowledge that birth and death live very closely together. Many believe that My Birth was heavily inspired by an Aztec sculpture that Kahlo had at home representing Tiazolteotl, the Goddess of fertility and midwives.

Oil and tempera on zinc - Private Collection

More Frida Kahlo Artwork and Analysis:



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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.
View Influences Chart

Artists

Diego RiveraDiego Rivera
Jose Clemente OrozcoJose Clemente Orozco
David Alfaro SiqueirosDavid Alfaro Siqueiros
Georgia O'KeeffeGeorgia O'Keeffe
Henri RousseauHenri Rousseau

Personal Contacts

Tina ModottiTina Modotti
Leon TrotskyLeon Trotsky
Bertram WolfeBertram Wolfe

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism

Influences on Artist
Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo
Years Worked: 1929-54
Influenced by Artist

Artists

André BretonAndré Breton
Louise BourgeoisLouise Bourgeois
Francesca WoodmanFrancesca Woodman
Ana MendietaAna Mendieta
Tracey EminTracey Emin

Personal Contacts

Julien LevyJulien Levy
Emmy Lou PackardEmmy Lou Packard
Lola Alvarez BravoLola Alvarez Bravo
Manuel Alvarez BravoManuel Alvarez Bravo

Movements

SurrealismSurrealism
Magic RealismMagic Realism
Feminist MovementFeminist Movement

Useful Resources on Frida Kahlo

Books

Videos

Websites

Articles

More

The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing of 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 Recomended resource

By Hayden Herrera

written by artist

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait Recomended resource

By Carlos Fuentes

Frida by Frida

By Frida Kahlo and Raquel Tibol

More Interesting Books about Frida Kahlo
La Casa Azul - Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City Recomended resource

The artist's house museum

Works from La Casa Azul - Museo Frida Kahlo in Mexico City Recomended resource

By The Google Cultural Institute

Frida Kahlo at the Tate Modern

Website of the 2005 Exhibition

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 Recomended resource

By Holland Cotter
The New York Times
February 29, 2008

Let Fridamania Commence

By Adrian Searle
The Guardian
June 6, 2005

More Interesting Articles about Frida Kahlo

interviews

NPR: Mexican Artist Used Politics to Rock the Boat

Artist Judy Chicago discusses the book she co-authored: "Frida Kahlo: Face to Face"

in pop culture

Frida Recomended resource

A 2002 Biographical Film on Frida Kahlo, Starring Salma Hayek

The Frida Kahlo Corporation

A Company with Products Inspired by Frida Kahlo

More Interesting Resources about Frida Kahlo
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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Katlyn Beaver

Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Dr. Rebecca Baillie

" Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Katlyn Beaver
Edited and revised, with Synopsis and Key Ideas added by Dr. Rebecca Baillie
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