Monday, 21 June 2010
Artists I admire: Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo 1907-1954 (The Two Fridas-1939)What do I like about Frida Khalo? Most importantly it is the intensity and passion of her work. She was a truly great artist combining Mexican folk art, with surrealism and making her works totally autobiographical through a symbolic form of expressionism. A self-taught painter she ventured into this profession to escape the boredom and pain of being in a hospital bed as she recovered from a near fatal accident. Abandoning her studies in medicine, she approached the artist Diego Rivera for advice on becoming a painter. Rivera gave her encouragement and they were to begin a turbulent affair that would last the rest of their lives. The couple divorced in 1939 and remarried a year later, but the marriage was always an unfaithful one. Rivera cheated on Khalo repeatedly, at one time with Kahlo's sister Christina. Kahlo's painting "Memory" or "The Heart" (1937) was based on this ultimate betrayal; the disproportionate heart which lies at her feet symbolises the intensity of her pain. Illustrating her feelings of helplessness and despair through her lack of hands using
Kahlo countered Rivera's unfaithfulness by having a string of affairs also. Notably with the American actress Josephine Baker (Kahlo was bisexual) and the Russian dissident Leon Trotsky. Kahlo painted "Self portrait dedicated to Leon Trotsky " for his birthday on the 7th of November (the anniversary of the Russian Revolution)
As a result of her near fatal accident and from having suffered from polio as a child, Kahlo would endure many operations and chronic pain throughout her life. She would also go through three miscarriages as a result of a damaged uterus sustained in the accident. Most of these physical ailments are depicted in her work, conveying a psychological and psychical vulnerability. Therefore in the "Broken Column" (1944) and ionic column, broken in several places, takes the place of her damaged spine, whilst nails are sticking in all over her naked body. The naked Khalo looks on solemnly with tears streaming down her face.
In My Nurse and I (1937) she addresses the issue of maternal relationships; Kahlo's mother was unable to breastfeed her because her sister (Christina) was born just eleven months after her. Therefore she was fed by a wet nurse. The relationship shown in the picture is distanced and cool reduced to the practical process of feeding, heightened by the lack of eye contact and the mask in front of the nurses face.
"What I Saw In The Water" (1938 below), shows the artists hallucinations and imagination run riot. Like many of her paintings, this is a semi self portrait with her legs painted from the bathers viewpoint (showing her damaged foot with its cracked big toe). Death, pain and sexuality floats on the water's surface
Perhaps her most famous work, is her most accomplished. "The Two Fridas" (1939) was completed shortly after her divorce from Diego Rivera, and is composed of two different personalities. The European Frida (on the left) and the Mexican Frida (on the right) express the predicament of her own identity. The Frida in the traditional Tehuana dress holds a small portrait of Rivera and represents the Frida that he loved. the European Frida sits with a broken heart and severed vein, dripping blood on the dress, symbolising her marital separation. Yet both Frida's are one and the same; their connection is enforced by holding hands, and an artery that links both of them through their visible hearts.
Kahlo is an artist with the capability to produce stark, shocking and imaginative images through a natural talent for painting. It is for this reason that she is one of the artists I admire and why she has become an art legend.
Memory or The Heart
Henry Ford Hospital
The Broken Column (1944)
Me and My Parrot (1943)
Self Portrait with Monkeys (1944)
What I saw in the Water (1938)