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 Diana Billings Art Blog


Updated: May 26, 2022

Frida Kalho is an artist that I think most people like, at least most people I know. Frida had more challenges than most people. These challenges led her to making some really wonderful art.

Some may think that her art is vulgar or disturbing. I think it it was Frida’s way of expressing her physical and emotional pain.

Frida started life in the Blue house, Casa Azul, which is also where her life ended. She was born July 6,1907 in Coyocoan, Mexico City, and died at the age of 47, in June 1954. Frida had 2 older sisters and one younger. Her father, who she was close to growing up, was of German decent. Her mother was Indigenous Mexican and Spanish. Frida related to the indigenous part of her heritage the most.

At 6 years old Frida contacted polio and was bedridden for 9 months. Her right leg and foot were smaller than her left leaving her with a limp. Her Father encouraged her to play soccer, box, wrestle and became a champion swimmer, thus strengthening her leg and foot. Her leg never gained back the loss of mass. Still this did not stop Frida. She did everything her friends were doing.

Frida was enrolled in the National Preparatory School in 1922. The school was known to be the best school in Mexico city. Only thirty-five female students were allowed to enrol. Frida soon became known for her bravery and outspokenness. At school was where she first met Diego Rivera- he was 36 and she was 15. Frida told a friend she would marry him one day. Rivera was there to paint a mural called the Creation. Many of the students were attracted to Rivera as he dressed so differently from the teachers and was far more interesting.

Frida was in a horrifying accident on a bus on September 17, 1925 when she was 18 years old. Frida was impaled through the pelvis with a steel handrail from the bus as a streetcar collided into the bus. Killing and injuring many passages, Frida suffered great injuries. Fridas’ spine was broken in 3 places, she had a broken collarbone and broken ribs. She had a broken right leg, dislocated and crushed right foot, pelvis broken in three places. Fridas’ injuries were so severe the Doctors were unsure if she would live. Over her lifetime, Frida had more than thirty surgeries on her spine and foot. She lived in constant pain.

As Frida was recovering alone in bed at home, her parents gave her brushes and paint to keep busy. They fashioned a easel for her to make it easier to paint. This is when she really started to express herself. Wearing a full body cast the painting helped distract her mind. She made her first self portrait while recovering. She said “I paint myself because I am always alone, and I am the subject I know best”

In 1928, several years after the accident, she reconnected with Diego Rivera. She asked him to review her work and he encouraged her to keep painting. Romance started and a year later they were married. For the first few years they were married they moved to San Fransisco, New York and Detroit for Diego’s work.

In 1932 Frida was getting more surreal and realistic in her painting. This is when she painted, her piece entitled Henry Ford Hospital. The painting showed her feelings, having suffered several miscarriages and yearning to have children. This was an ongoing theme in her painting, showing her undeniable emotional and physical pain that was a constant for her. The second theme Frida painted was self portraits, being confined to bed for so many years, it is a subject mater that quite likely was the most obvious thing to paint.

During her first marriage to Diego, he had an affair with her younger sister Christina. Between the affair and the miscarriages, she divorced him in 1939. One year later Frida and Diego remarried. Diego and Frida had been keeping separate houses and studios over the years, but remained a couple even though the relationship was tumultuous. They both had affairs over the years. It is well known that Frida was bisexual, and she had an affair with Leon Trotsky. Diego and Frida were both members of the Mexican Communist Party, when Leon Trotsky took refuge in Mexico. Having been banished from Russia, he met Frida when he stayed in Diegos’ home.

Having been encouraged in 1938 by Diego to put her work in a small group show at the University Gallery in Mexico City, Frida’s work was seen by Julian Levy from New York. He contacted Frida wanting to exhibit her work. She did not see why he would be interested in showing her work, but she sent Julian photo samples. He was thrilled. Julian arranged for a show in October-November of 1938. Frida was very modest about her art and could not see how it would be liked by others. She never pushed for a show or exhibition. This was her first and only show in New York while she was alive. The show was a great success.

In 1939 Frida traveled by ship to Paris for a show of her work and stayed with Andre Breton and his wife. The show was poorly organized and frustrated Frida. Ultimately, the show did not take place. It was then she met Marcel Duchamp, who took her work and found a gallery. The gallery owner thought only 2 of Frida’s paintings could be shown as the others were too “shocking” for the public. Duchamp found another gallery showing Dali, and they agreed to show Fridas’ paintings. In Paris, Frida did meet other artists in the Surrealist movement like Max Ernst and Paul Eluard. Frida was not well during her stay in Paris at the Brenton home and moved to a friend of Duchamp, a much more healthy, clean house. Frida couldn’t wait to get back to the United States.

In 1943 Frida was awarded a Professorship at La Esmeralda School of Art, where she could only work a few months due to ill health.

1944 Frida received a national price from the Ministry of Education for her painting “ Moses”. She went to New York for another leg operation, and she is hospitalized again in 1949 and remained in very ill health thought 1950.

Frida’s first solo show in Mexico was in April 1953 at the Galeria Aste Contemporaneo, organized by Lola Alvarez Bravo. Lola knew that Frida did not have long to live. By this time she had had her right leg amputated and Frida had been very ill. She arrived at the show in an ambulance with a motorcycle escort and attended the show in her bed. Though the art show was a huge success, Frida was so ill it was visible to the guests. Diego Rivera said later that, the show was the most thrilling event of 1953 and the attendees could not but marvel at her talent. Even he was impressed when he saw all her work together.

Frida, again living in her Blue House, caught pneumonia and died June 13, 1954.

In 1958 The Museo Frida Kahlo is opened and presented to the Mexican nation in accordance of Diego Riveras wishes. The Blue House became the Museo. Diego died in 1958.

I find with many of the artists I am interested in, their lives are interesting and full of details and excitement, to the extent that I can not possibly tell you about everything in their lives. A blog is far to small to do this. So I try to touch on the high points that I find are interesting. I do hope you find this a gateway into learning more about artists.

Frida Kalho’s life was huge though she only lived to 47. It seems so many artist die young. Does this make us see them more? Do we have an affinity for those who die young? Her life was so big in a short glimpse of time. The Frida Kahlo biography by Hayden Herrera is so detailed, full of letters, medical records and information. If you have not read it, this book should be a must read, add it to your list.


Sources: Frida - A Biography of Frida Kahlo, by Hayden Herrera

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