Frida KAHLO was one of twentieth century’s most famous artists. Not only were her paintings a huge success, but so was her story. Her story tells of independence, being an ikone der emanzipation, freedom and also the suffering of the artist.
Frida is very well-known in today’s society. Her face or artworks can be found on colorful and bright tshirts, cups, earrings and all manner of merchandise. It’s important to remember that her life as well as her artistic career were marred from the beginning.
According to The National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Kahlo was first diagnosed with minor depression. But she also had two major depressive episodes and attempted suicide. Her dissociation and identity problems led many historians and researchers to believe Kahlo suffered from a number of mental illnesses, from bipolar disorder to post-traumatic Stress Disorder to dissociative Identity disorder.
Let’s examine the effects of her turbulent past and her mental illness on her art.
A Broken Body
Kahlo was six when she was diagnosed by polio. The disease left her with crippled legs and a right foot. She began concealing them with long, fitted trousers and Mexican skirts. It made her instantly identifiable. Because of her limp, other children bullied and isolated her during her childhood.
Her most devastating tragedy was the fatal accident in a trolleycar. She was returning home from school in 1925 when the bus she was riding hit a trolleycar. Kahlo survived the collision, but it had devastating consequences. An iron rail impaled her pelvis, fractured the bone and also caused her to lose her legs and ribs.
Both physical and mental pain
Frida Kaslo left behind by paintings: Frida Kolo, The Broken Column (1944), Museo Dolores Olmedo Mexico City (Mexico).
Kahlo started her artistic career shortly after her accident. While she was in a full-body cast for 3 months, her father gave her his painting tools, and her mother had a mirror mounted over her bed. Kahlo explains that this is the beginning to many of her self portraits.
Because I am rarely alone, I paint self portraits. I also like to be the person I know best.
Kahlo’s paintings show that mental and physical suffering are interconnected. Her injuries permanently affected her health, and she was forced to have multiple surgeries throughout her life. The Broken Column is an example of how Kahlo felt. She was so broken that the only thing that kept them together was her corset. Her body is punctured by many spikes and her face is full to tears.
Kahlo was at her most vulnerable moment in her life. Due to her lack of appetite following the surgeries, she was severely malnourished and required a strict diet. The artist can be seen snaking in her bed, crying, and the wooden easel on her right holds a funnel rather than a canvas. The food appears to flow in and out of her body simultaneously, and she looks directly at the viewer almost asking for assistance.
Kahlo portrays herself as a nine-arrowed deer in this painting. Kahlo painted it following a failed spinal operation that just made her struggle harder. In this artwork, the subject is also in a deserted landscape. This, along with many others, shows Kahlo’s feelings of isolation, despair, and vulnerability. There are other interpretations of The WoundedDeer. Some critics claim that Kahlo also wanted it to symbolize the pain of Diego Rivera’s second marital affair.
Frida Rivera & Diego Rivera: Stormy Love Story
I have had two amazing accidents in my lifetime. The first was with the trolley and Diego the second. Diego was by far, the worst.
Kahlo, a Mexican painter and muralist, married Diego Rivera in 1929. She was 22 years old, while he was almost 43. He was married twice, and had four children. It was a turbulent love story full of lies, cheating and passion. Kahlo stated in a letter that she believed the two of them were meant to be together and that even though he was hurting her she could not stop loving him.
However, in 1934 they reached a breaking point. Kahlo was made aware by her husband of her affair with Cristina Kahlo. Frida broke up with Diego, and the couple divorced. The story is called A Few Small Nips. It tells the story of a man who attacked his wife several times with an axe and then told court that he had only given her a few small nips.
Kahlo views herself as the woman who was stabbed. Diego has hurt Kahlo numerous times, but the fatal last time was the worst. He isn’t willing to admit his mistake and doesn’t even understand why he did it.
The artist painted The Two Fridas shortly after his divorce. It is a double self-portrait in which Kahlo holds hands. The first Frida wears a white Victorian-style Victorian dress. Her heart is exposed and bleeding. The main blood artery runs through the hearts of the women, but it was cut by the first Frida. This stains her white gown. The second one, wearing a traditional Tehuana outfit, has her heart intact and working and a small portrait by Rivera in her right hand.
Kahlo presents two sides of Kahlo’s identity in this painting. Diego is still loving one, and Kahlo is leaving the other to die alone.
Kahlo then had more adventures with other people. However, she ultimately married Diego in 1940 for the second time. They remained together until Kahlo was killed in an intense, passionate and degrading love that she was capable of painting with all its cruelty.
Kahlo also suffered from mental and physical declines after her three miscarriages. She was both injured in the trolley accident as well and had to have all of the surgeries.
Kahlo wrote these things in her diaries
Painting was my passion. I lost three kids and many other things that would have satisfied my miserable life. My painting has taken the place of all this. My favorite thing about work is its quality.
The artist felt a deep empty space within her, which she tried filling with her artwork. While recovering from a stroke, she discovered that art was a hobby and her only means of expressing the pain that was consuming her.
Henry Ford Hospital
Kahlo painted this image after having her second abortion in Detroit in 1932.
Frida Kahlo suffering behind paintings: Frida Kahlo, Henry Ford Hospital, 1932, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City, Mexico.
The six elements that are attached to her hands by red strings look like umbilical cables.
The perfect functioning city is a machine, but the artist’s pain is a moving human being. Kahlo feels isolated and less at home in a city that doesn’t work the way she wants.
Death and Rebirth
Kahlo often thought about death during her life. Kahlo didn’t despair. Death was something she used to live fully, to do everything.
Mexican culture considers death a call to joy and encourages you to live as long as possible. El Dia de Los Muertos is the Mexican Day of the Dead, which is celebrated because it is believed that the deceased will be visiting their loved ones.
Kahlo thinks that death means rebirth. He sees death as just another way of living. The Dream is the artist’s relationship of death. Kahlo sleeps soundly in her bed enveloped by a symbol of rebirth. Over her canopy bed is a skeleton. It holds flowers and has many bombs attached.
Kahlo actually had the skeleton hanging above her bed.
Kahlo began to notice that her health was deteriorating and she started thinking about the possibility of death. The theme of The Dream is repeated here: The background is full green leaves, a symbol to life, while death is depicted in the middle as a large skull on an unknown landscape. The artist isn’t afraid or anxious; her gaze is steadfast and ready to go.
Frida passed away from pulmonary embolism while at La Casa Azul in 1954.
I hope you have a joyful exit. And I wish to never return.
Art as Therapy
Frida was and wants to be considered an exceptional artist, at the end of it all. Even though she was influenced in some way by Surrealism, she stated:
They thought I was Surrealist. But I wasn’t. I never painted my dreams. I created my reality.
She didn’t wish to express her subconsciousness. Instead, she wanted to let all of her feelings go. Kahlo considered art not only a job, but a way to get therapy. It was the only method she could show the pain she had experienced and what gave meaning her chaotic life.
Even in the Surrealist painting What the Water Gave Me which is considered her greatest, we can still see elements from her previous paintings like roots, flowers, the bed or the skeleton. These symbols, however, refer to actual events in her own life.
Kahlo was a truly unique artist because she experienced and accepted her suffering. She then used art as a tool to transform it into something more, something that could help other people. Kahlo’s artwork is beloved by all because it teaches us that we don’t have to hide our pain from ourselves.
At the end, we can survive much more than our minds allow.
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