Yesterday we began to look at the Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

(Credit: reproduction-gallery.com)

As I eluded to in the previous post Frida Kahlo's paintings contain strong memories of her mental and physical trials which she courageously endured throughout her life.

The painting below titled Tree of Hope Remain Strong is one of Frida's most famous paintings.

Tree of Hope Remain Strong (fridakahlo.org)

In this painting, under the gloomy sky the sun and moon divided the background into two halves of light and dark. In the middle Frida was sitting there and weeping in a red Tehuana costume. Nevertheless she seems strong and confident. Behind her on a hospital trolley, lying a second Frida, who is anesthetized and her surgical incisions still open and dripping with blood. Frida was holding a pink orthopedic corset while sitting in the wooden chair. In her another hand she was holding a flag which has words from a song ""Cielito Lindo" - "Tree of Hope, keep firm."

On the flagpole, there is a red tip  which looks like a surgical instrument stained with blood, or a paintbrush dipped in red paint. The barren landscape behind her has two fissures which is metaphor of the wounds on her back. Frida painted this painting for her patron Eduardo Morillo Safa. In a letter to him Frida mentioned: "There is a skeleton (or death) that flees in the face of my will to live." But she later removed the skeleton to please Eduardo. But she cannot eliminate the menace of death. In this portrait, by putting two Frida's images together, one is a victim of botched tragedy, the other is the heroic survivor, Frida used it as a retablo and an act of faith. Frida takes charge of her destiny and become her own saver and hero. (Ref: https://www.fridakahlo.org/tree-of-hope.jsp)

In The Broken Column (below) which was painted by Frida in 1944, the pain and suffering that was a constant theme in her work is graphically and dramatically illustrated.

The Broken Column (fridakahlo.org)

The association of the cloth to Christ’s loincloth and Kahlo’s wounds resembling those of Saint Sebastian could be a reaction to Frida’s relationship with her mother whom she described as kind, active and intelligent but also calculating, cruel and fanatically religious. Ref: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-kahlo-frida-artworks.htm)

I tell you these details not to horrify you but to demonstrate the strength of character that was Frida Kahlo. According to the Tate Gallery, Frida has become one of the significant painters of the 20th century. She was also politically active, insisting on recording 7 July 1910 as her birth date (not 1907) as this was the start of the Mexican revolution and she wanted to be seen as part of modern Mexico. Frida and her husband Diego Rivera were both members of the Communist Party as illustrated in Marxism will give health to the sick.    

Marxism Will Give Health to the Sick (artsand culture.google.com)

During Frida's time in the Communist Party she favoured wearing workman's shirts with her skirts. Earlier she had made political statements dressed like a boy. Her point about the subservient role of women in Mexican society is made and reminded me of Amantine Lucile Aurore Dupin, the writer who used the nom de plume George Sands and who dressed as a man to gain the freedom to ignore social barriers and go where she pleased. We have little idea of the suffering and hardships experienced by the women of these earlier times.
 

Self Portrait with Cropper Hair (fridakahlo.org)

It is interesting to note that one of Frida Kahlo’s favourite artists was Pieter Bruegel the Elder, the Flemish painter we looked at some weeks back and whose focus on peasant life corresponded to Frida's interest in the Mexican people.

Frida Kahlo became a champion for women especially their suffering. In some cases she was seen as almost a cult figure. Her paintings, some of them too graphic to show in the Blog, expressed the pain suffered by women and for this she has become a role model for many people. Here she is painting from her hospital bed as she had to undergo many operations during her life following the serious injury she suffered in an accident when young.  

(Credit: lisawallerrogers.com)

In the painting below, Frida's last signed self-portrait, she recognises and thanks Doctor Farill for saving her life. If you look closely you will see that she is holding a heart shaped palette in her left hand and brushes in the right hand. The implication is that she was painting using her own blood from her heart.

Self Portrait with the Portrait of Doctor Farill 1951 (fridakahlo.org)

To really begin to understand Frida Kahlo it is best to study the painting The Two Fridas (below) created in 1939 shortly after her divorce from her husband Diego Rivera.

There are numerous interpretation of the painting which is probably her most famous. On a simple level, one Frida saw herself as European, probably from her father's influence as he was German; the other a lover of the Mexican culture coming from her mother. Frida's explanation was that one of the Fridas was an imaginary friend from childhood. Later in her life, Frida admitted this painting arose out of her loneliness and desperation arising from her separation from Diego.1

From my reading it is clear that there was an ambivalence about Frida Kahlo. There can be no doubt she was passionate about her Mexican heritage but Frida certainly enjoyed the privileges arising from her contact with European culture while at the same time being critical of the gap between the rich and poor especially in America.

The Two Fridas (Credit: fridakahlo.org)

Frida Kahlo also painted some very graphic illustrations of childbirth which I have chosen not to show.

I will conclude today with a selection of paintings that show some of the people in her life and how Frida perceived her relationship with them.

Frida Kahlo had her first solo exhibition in Mexico in 1953, shortly before her death in 1954 at the age of 47. However in 1984, Mexico declared her works a national cultural heritage, prohibiting their export from the country. Her paintings have broken records for Latin American art. In 1990 she became the first Latin American artist to break the one-million-dollar threshold when Diego and I was auctioned by Sotheby's for $1,430,000 and Roots (1943) reached US$5.6 million.

Let us remember Frida Kahlo as this self portrait expresses : beautiful, talented and enigmatic.

Self Portrait in a velvet Dress 1926 (Credit: fridakahlo.org)

Where to next with the Blog? We will stay close to Frida and look at the mural works created by her husband Diego Rivera.

Footnote

  1. fridakahlo.org