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Mr. Burgher's Art Facts

Frida Kahlo

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Frida Kahlo: July 6,1907-July 13,1954...Mexico

"It is not worthwhile to leave this world without having had a little fun in life."
~Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo was a very important Mexican surrealist. Her father, Wilhelm Kahlo, was a portrait photographer and the son of Hungarian Jews that relocated to Germany. Wilhelm moved to Mexico in 1891. There he married Frida's mom, Matilde.

Kahlo's early life was full of tragedy and pain. When she was six-years old, Frida contacted polio, which caused her right leg to be smaller than the other and she had a life long limp. To compensate for her weakness she developed into a tomboy who wrestled, boxed, played soccer, and swam competitively. On September 17, 1925, on her was home from her pre-med school training, she is injured in a bus that is hit by a railcar. She spent a month in the hospital and three months in bed, suffering from several displaced vertebrae, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a dislocated shoulder, a hand pole that went through her vagina and out her lower back, and her right foot was dislocated and crushed. She had numerous operations throughout her life to correct problems and pain caused by this crash. She begins to paint after the crash. "For many years my father had kept a box of oil paints and some paintbrushes in an old jar and a palette in the corner of his photographic studio. He liked to paint and draw landscapes near the river…Ever since I was a little girl, as the saying goes, I’d had my eye on that box of paints. I couldn't explain why. Being confined to bed for so long, I finally took the opportunity to ask my father for it. Like a little boy whose toy is being taken away from him and given to a sick brother, he 'lent' it to me."

Frida married the Mexican mural painter, Diego Rivera, on August 21,1929. He was twenty years older than Frida. A large man, at over 300 pounds and six feet tall, Riveria was a frog looking man and Frida, at five foot three and weighing about ninety-five pounds, was his dove. He is considered Mexico's greatest mural painter. He worked in a Renaissance style of mixing a pigment into the wet plaster. He influenced many mural painters, including Josť Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. Throughout Rivera's long relationship with Frida, both had several affairs on one another. Frida even had an affair at one point with communist leader Leon Trotsky. She also had several affairs with other women. The rocky relationship resulted in a divorce late in 1939. But their love resulted in a remarriage on December 8, 1940 that lasted until Frida death.

Frida’s art is as much about self-portraiture as it is about the surreal. But Frida would say, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality." Her art was her therapy for many issues in her life including the rage over her stormy marriage, her emotional miscarriages, and the physical weakness and pain she lived through. She also was very politically minded. She was a member of the communist party and was not afraid to speak her mind as she pleased. This also was true socially when she would get drunk, tell dirty jokes, and swear like a sailor. This was very unique behavior for a woman in the 1930’s and 40’s. All the same, her art peers accepted Frida. Even the upper crust in Paris. Artists with some major name recognition like Marcel Duchamp, Wissily Kandinsky, and Pablo Picasso praised her work. But Frida being Frida, she made no bones about not caring for the "bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches of surrealists."

Kahlo traveled throughout the United States and France showing her work. Her first solo exhibition, in 1938, took place at the Julien Levy Gallery in New York City. One of her great self-portraits created around this time was Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair. We see Frida wearing a man's suit and holding a pair od scissors. Hair is all over the landscape. After catching Diego in one of his many affairs, one with her sister, she would leave and become very depressed. One of the ways she got back at him was by cutting off her hair. He loved her long hair.
 
Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair
1940
 
It was not until 1953 that Kahlo's work would be in a solo exhibit in Mexico. She attended the show in a bed shortly after her leg was amputated at the knee. She was in great pain and drinking about two bottles of cognac a day. In 1954 Frida caught pneumonia at a political rally protesting the invasion of Guatemala. She died at home, in the blue house, a few days later. She was quite popular in the 1940’s but was eventually a side note to Diego Rivera. She regains her popularity in the 1980’s. This was due to feminist art historians that wrote some books, but I feel it was mainly the purchase of artwork and the promotions by the singer Madonna that Frida Kahlo became a known and respected name. In one of the best movies of 2002, Salma Hayek plays the tital role in the movie of the artists life, simply titled Frida. She once told a group of art students, "To paint is the most terrific thing there is, but to do it well is very difficult."

Mr. Mike Burgher * PO Box 247 * Dallas Center, Iowa. 50063