Frida Kahlo Artist Biography

The paintings of Frida Kahlo often depict physical and mental pain, they are both narcissistic and nightmarish - yet at the same time fierce and flamboyant. Working in a primitive style, her paintings are full of odd colour combinations, static figures, and incredible space and scale. Her paintings not only reflect her inner feelings, but also position them in the perspective of Mexican culture. She was deeply attuned to the consciousness of Mexican people and as a result found great success within her own country. Beyond her native land, however, her work was frequently overlooked, especially after her death, not resurfacing until many years later.

Frida Kahlo was born in in Coyoacán, a suburb of Mexico City in 1907, the daughter of the German photographer Guillermo Kahlo (who had emigrated to Mexico) and a Mexican mother. In 1922, she began studying medicine and joined the 'Liga de la Juventud Communista'. While at school, Kahlo hung out with a group of politically and intellectually like-minded students. She became romantically involved with one of them, Alejandro Gómez Arias – got married in 1929 and remain with him for the duration of her life.

On September 17, 1925, Frida Kahlo and Gómez Arias were traveling together on a bus when the vehicle collided with a streetcar. As a result of the collision, Frida Kahlo was impaled by a steel handrail, which went into her hip and came out the other side. After staying at the Red Cross Hospital in Mexico City for several weeks, she returned home to recuperate further. This event prompted her to paint and the pain she felt was to become an ongoing theme of her art.

Frida Kahlo was mainly self-taught as a painter. She was greatly influenced by Rivera as well as by Mexican folk art. She specialized almost exclusively in self-portraits ranging from simple likenesses to portraying herself in dramatic settings. Every picture contained a strong autobiographical element, whether it was simply the artist dressed in traditional Mexican dress or still-lives of fruit which she found in the surroundings of her beloved abode. Her preoccupation with death (a favorite theme amongst the Mexican people) was evident in many of her most famous works, particularly the disturbing 'Two Fridas' (1934). Kahlo said that many of her contemporaries "thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

Her paintings were widely shown in Mexico and in 1939 she had successful exhibitions in New York and Paris, but during her lifetime her husband's career overshadowed her own. After her death in 1954, however, she became a feminist icon for her struggle against illness and her left-wing political activities.

"In the whole history of art, Frida is the only example of a painter virtually tearing her breast and heart open in order to express the feelings in them and tell the biological truth." Diego Rivera

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