Frida Kahlo / by Chris Hall

I was born a bitch. I was born a painter.  Frida Kahlo

I’ve always found inspiration in Frida Kahlo’s art and life and have admired for her work for its raw, uncompromising vision.  She had many an opportunity to give in to life’s cruelty, but she continued to fight for what she believed in, and became her own hero.  Kahlo was born in Mexico City on July 6th, 1907.  In later life Kahlo would give her actual birth date as July 7th, 1910, to correlate with the beginning of the Mexican Revolution.  Her mother would usher Kahlo and her sisters into the house as gunfire would echo in the streets.  Through out her life she would champion indigenous Mexican culture and revolutionary political ideals, both of which she references in her artwork.  

On September 17th, 1925, young Kahlo was riding in a bus which collided with a trolley car.  She suffered serious injuries as a result of the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder.  In addition to all of this, her body was pieced by an iron handrail, which would leave her unable to bear children.  Through out the remainder of her life she would be in extreme pain and would require a total of 35 operations.  Because of the accident, she was often confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time.  Recovering from her injuries isolated her from other people.  This isolation was the genesis of Kahlo’s art practice, which would include 55 self portraits.  Of the self-portraits Kahlo would say, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.”

Kahlo was influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors, dramatic symbolism, and primitive aesthetic.  She admired the work of muralist Diego Rivera.  In 1927 Kahlo approached Rivera seeking advice and confirmation of her own work.  Rivera recognized her talent and the two began a relationship which culminated with their marriage in 1929.  Their marriage was volatile from the start.  Both Kahlo and Rivera were known for their irritable temperaments, which was only complicated by their both having numerous extramarital affairs.  Diego would have affairs with other women, including Kahlo’s younger sister, Christina.  Kahlo would have affairs with both men and women, including Soviet exile Leon Trotsky, artist Isamu Noguchi, and actress and activist Josephine Baker.  The two would divorce in 1939, but would later remarry again in 1940, although their second marriage would be just as troubled as the first.

In 1938 Kahlo was courted by Andre Breton for the Surrealist movement.  Breton would describe her art as a “ribbon around a bomb.”  She would reject the Surrealist label because she believed her work reflected more of her reality than her dreams.  Of the Surrealists she would say, “They are so damn ‘intellectual’ and rotten that I can’t stand them anymore . . . I’d rather sit on the floor in the market of Toluca and sell tortillas, than have anything to do with those ‘artistic’ bitches of Paris.”  

Kahlo died on July 13, 1954 at the age of 47.  The official cause of death was given as a pulmonary embolism, but some suspect that she died from an overdose which may or may not have been accidental.  In his autobiography, Diego Rivera would write that the day Kahlo died was the most the most tragic day of his life, adding that he realized too late that the most wonderful part of his life was loving her.