Frida Kahlo was born July 6 1907, in Coyoacán, Mexico just south of Mexico City. Her father was German and her mother was of Spanish and indigenous descent. Although she was considered a “mestiza” a person of mixed European and indigenous ancestry, she mostly identified with her indigenous heritage and loved the Mexican culture and people.
She grew up in a big blue house called La Casa Azul with her parents and 6 sisters. At the young age of six, Frida contracted polio, which damaged her right leg making it smaller than the left. She hid this deformity by wearing long skirts, these became part of her iconic look.
La Casa Azul
Tragedy struck again at 18 years old when she was in a terrible bus accident that collided with a trolley, leaving her with a fractured spinal cord, collarbone, ribs, pelvic bone, leg, foot, and shoulder. The injuries from this accident were so severe impacting her well-being for the rest of her life. Although Frida was plagued by numerous health issues, we see that she never let them stop her from living and loving life to the fullest.
To help her pass the time, Kahlo’s parents set her up with painting materials and a mirror. Her mother had a special easel made so that she could paint while laying on her back. This was when she began painting self-portraits. It was also the beginning of other themes that would mark her career as an artist; physical suffering, introspection, and explorations of identity and trauma.
One of the most legendary female artists of all time, her story was sometimes bright and sometimes tragic, but Kahlo’s iconic work is inextricably linked to her life experiences.
“When she painted, it was for herself. She transcended her pain. Her paintings are her diary”
Isolation, suffering, longing, and loss are all recurring themes in her portraits. Many of her paintings reflect those difficult times in her life and the suffering she endured both internally and physically. But they also reflect her strength and passion for life and love.
Viva la Vida, Watermelons
She often drew inspiration from her painful medical procedures. Many of her self-portraits detail physical, medical wounds and procedures.
Self-Portrait Dedicated to Dr. Eloesser
Kahlo planned to become a doctor and took courses in biology, zoology and anatomy. Her knowledge of these disciplines would later add realistic touches to her portraits.
Self-Portrait with Bonito
Self-Portrait with Monkey
Frida created her own style of painting blending the mystical qualities of surrealism with the rooted strength of Mexican folk art. She produced only around 200 paintings, primarily still life’s and portraits of herself, family and friends. She also kept an illustrated journal and did dozens of drawings. With techniques learned from both her husband and her father, a professional architectural photographer, she created haunting, sensual and stunningly original paintings that fused elements of surrealism, fantasy and folklore into powerful narratives.
Her work was described as “Surrealist”, a label she rejected,
“They thought I was a Surrealist but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality,” Kahlo has said of her critics, according to the Museum of Modern Art.
Her unique and vivid work drew attention, and she was invited to do a show in New York in 1938. Her home, the Casa Azul, was opened as a museum in 1958. It wasn’t really until the late 70s that Frida’s work was recognized by art historians and political activists. Frida has since reached Icon status as an artist, feminist, and indigenous rights activist.
Today, my daughter Valentina is learning about Frida Kahlo’s life and works too. Here is her favorite book about the artist with beautiful and colorful illustrations by Elisa Chavarri: