1926 until her death, the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo created striking,
often shocking, images that reflected her turbulent life. She painted
using vibrant colors in a style that was influenced by indigenous
cultures of Mexico as well as by European influences that include
A viewer might classify her paintings as Surrealism or Magic Realism, but she considered her art to be realistic. Many of her works are self-portraits that symbolically express her own pain and sexuality.
In 1925 Frida Kahlo was gravely hurt in a bus accident. She spent over a year in bed, recovering from fractures of her back, collarbone, and ribs, as well as a shattered pelvis and shoulder and foot injuries. Despite more than 30 subsequent operations, Frida Kahlo spent the rest of her life in constant pain. During her convalescence Frida Kahlo had begun to paint with oils. Frida's mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes
Her pictures, mostly self-portraits and still life's, were deliberately naive, filled with the bright colors and flattened forms of the Mexican folk art she loved. Frida Kahlo had studied art before, at the National Preparatory School, where she had met Diego Rivera when he was painting the "Creation Mural", but Frida Kahlo had never worked on paintings before. Over her bed, Frida Kahlo had a mirror so she could see herself, and this was the beginning of her focus on self portraits.
Kahlo once said, "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best". Frida was a close friend of Tina Modotti, who modeled for Diego Rivera, and through her Frida and Diego met again, and fell in love. Rivera's, approach to art and politics were similar to her own, both were communist militants. He was also 20 years her senior, They married August 21st, 1929.
Frida and Diego had a stormy, passionate relationship that survived infidelities, the pressures of Rivera's career, a divorce and remarriage, and Kahlo's poor health. Frida Kahlo was later to say: 'I suffered two grave accidents in my life. One in which a streetcar knocked me down... The other accident is Diego.'
In the fall of 1930 Frida traveled with Diego to San Francisco, where Diego worked on murals at the Pacific Stock Exchange and the California School of Fine Arts. Ironically, Frida Kahlo is probably as, if not more, famous today than Diego Rivera. During the thirties, however, Rivera received more critical acclaim for his work than Kahlo did for hers. Despite this neglect of her work, Kahlo accompanied Rivera when he visited the United States, and contributed to the "spectacle" created by Rivera.
In his daybook, famous photographer Edward Weston described Frida: "She shows no trace of her father's German blood. Dressed in Indian costume, including sandals, she's a sensation in the streets of San Francisco." After a brief return to Mexico, in the summer of 1931 they went to New York where Diego had a major exhibition of his work. Then, in the spring of 1932, they moved to Detroit, where Diego worked on a series of murals at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
Frida Kahlo, missing Mexico, often complained about "Gringolandia". She especially disliked Detroit. During this time Frida had become pregnant, however, after the bus accident in 1925 she could not have children, and complications arose.
Frida's trauma in the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit is illustrated in her painting " Henry Ford Hospital", 1932. Frida's mother also passed away while the couple was living in Detroit. In the paintings Kahlo created while she was in Detroit, she depicted technology as the cold antithesis to the colors and liveliness of Mexico.
Surrealist leader André Breton arrived in Mexico in 1938 and was enchanted with the area, which he found to be a 'naturally surrealist' country. He was also very impressed with Frida Kahlo's painting. Partly through his initiative, Frida Kahlo was offered a show at the fashionable Julian Levy Gallery in New York in 1938.
The show was a triumph, and about half the paintings were sold. The following year Frida Kahlo had a show in Paris. Although the show was not a financial success the reviews were good, and the Louvre bought a picture for the Jeu de Paume. Frida Kahlo also won praise from Kandinsky and Picasso. She had, however, conceived a violent dislike for what she called 'this bunch of coocoo lunatic sons of bitches of surrealists.'
Later, Frida Kahlo was to be vehement in her denials that she had ever been a true Surrealist. 'They thought I was a Surrealist,' she said, 'but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.' A few days before Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she wrote in her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida". The official cause of death was given as a pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from an overdose that may or may not have been accidental.
She had been very ill throughout the previous year and her right leg had been amputated at the knee, owing to gangrene. Frida Kahlo also had a bout of bronchopneumonia near that time, which had left her quite frail. Kahlo's work was not widely recognized until decades after her death. It was not until the early 1980s, when the artistic movement in Mexico known as Neomexicanismo began, that Frida Kahlo received her full recognition as an artist.