The work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo is fantastically popular today both in the art market and in public display. Her paintings have universal appeal in the way they address and seek to deal with fundamental expressions of human suffering.
Frida Kahlo was born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón. The name Frieda derives from the German word Friede, meaning peace. She dropped the e from her name around 1935, and subsequently became known as Frida
She was a healthy, happy child until she contracted polio at the age of 6
Adding to her misfortune, at the age of 18, Frida was in a traumatic bus accident, which was a great source of suffering for the entire duration of her life. She would have 35 operations in total. She depicted her physical suffering in a great many of her paintings, perhaps most harrowingly in ‘The Broken Column’, 1944.
She and Diego Rivera married in 1929. She was 22, he was 43. She was his third wife. Frida once said, “I suffered two grave accidents in my life…One in which a streetcar knocked me down and the other was Diego.
Their relationship was stormy, to say the least. Diego had many affairs, even with Frida’s sister, Cristina. Masochistically, Frida renamed herself Cristina after their affair in an effort to once again become the object of Diego’s desire.
Frida did not remain faithful to Diego either, and famously had an affair with Leon Trotsky.
Frida was tormented by her insecurity, in part accounted for by her physical suffering. To cope with her lack of self-definition and feelings of being lost, she fashioned many selves both in everyday life and in her paintings. She is known for wearing lavish traditional Mexican dress and her meticulously crafted hairstyle and make up.
As a result, she was self-obsessed, and at least 55 of her 143 paintings were self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many she said, “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.”
Her selves came under many guises, from her Mexican national pride to more symbolical portrayals with animals for example. In ‘Self-portrait with Monkey’ 1938 it is as if the monkey clasping his small arm around her neck signifies an aspect of her spirit.
Frida is widely recognised as a Surrealist painter, and further is seen as an instrumental figure in spreading the movement internationally. When her work began to receive recognition in the 1930s, the surrealist par excellence André Breton described her art to be like ‘a ribbon around a bomb.’ Explosive and merciless, delicate and sophisticated.
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