Friday, July 1, 2011

Frida Khalo

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Frieda Khalo was born in Mexico in 1910. She is known as one of the most important 20th Century painters, and in 18 her work was declared the property of the Mexican State. Although born in Mexico, Khalo is of mixed race, as her father was a German photographer, and her mother was a Mexican but of Indian extraction. I find this intriguing as when I see her face it has an unusual combination of two different nationalities.


There were two events in Frida Khalo’s life that was of crucial importance, not just to her as an individual but events, which thrust her into expressing herself through her painting. When she was 18, a bus accident put her into hospital for a year with a smashed spinal cord and fractured pelvis. It was in her sick bed that she started to paint. At twenty-one, she married the world famous Mexican mural artist Diego Rivera. In 1930 they left Mexico for San Francisco, because Diego’s reputation was growing quickly in America. Many of her paintings show her pain both from the accident that left her unable to have children and the grief that Rivera’s occasional affairs prompted coupled with the homesickness she suffered for much of her life. Her husband described her work as being “As loveable as a beautiful smile and as cruel as all of the bitterness of life.” I have included some examples of her work, which I think are both very powerful and moving. Her paintings are mostly small format self-portraits. The colours she uses in these pictures are earth tones, and her portraits are very naturalistic.

I described Frida Khalo because I had never seen her work before and came across it almost by accident while looking for portrait artists. Her growing reputation in the USA led to her paintings being shown in a series of exhibitions, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Boston Institute of Contemporary Arts, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. From then on she received a fellowship and taught at La Esmerelda experimental art school.

I chose a picture ‘The Broken Column’. It seems to  be related to the road accident. This was actually painted as a stone pillar e.g. Nelson’s column. Frida uses this column’s cracked and crumbling state to represent her broken spine. The artist is wearing surgical braces to hold her body together again along with a number of pins which may signify her immense pain and the fact that her body needs repairing after it has fallen apart.

To me this painting is almost screaming out to the viewer to look at how she is hurt on both the outside and the inside. This painting I believe is Frieda expressing her feelings of how she regards herself and how she feels. The empty, deserted plains behind her give a feeling of her being on her own, alone in the world and her only emotions seem to be tears.

The second picture was painted in a hospital and clearly shows Frida shedding tears for everything that she has lost. The main theme in this is her abortion, which she suffered as a young woman. This was painted while she was in the Henry Ford Hospital in 1925. The strings leading from Frida all appear to be symbolically linked to the pain she is suffering. She is holding onto a baby, a wilting flower and also the bone structure of a pelvis. Unlike a lot of her paintings, where she uses natural the colours and forms e.g. Countryside landscapes, and leaves or sun, to create a bright outlook on life. Here there is nothing but a mixed dull sky, and an industrial landscape behind her. There is nothing that really gives a sense of hope, it all seems to show a look of desperation and dullness.

The next four portraits are included to show her life from 1926 to 1927. It is interesting to look at these pictures because one knows that in amidst these portraits is a very hurt and suffering human being. The portrait made in 16 makes her look very dark and mysterious. The only bright colour in this painting is her skin, and this makes her the most important looking thing in the picture, whereby the eye is drawn straight in to her. She also seems to give a look of uneasiness, protecting herself from the viewer with her arm and hand placed across her body. This is a very different painting from the next one made in 1930. Here she looks quite relaxed, in lighter clothing and a brighter background.

There is still a feeling of uneasiness, as if she does not fit there. The portrait painted in 1940 is also of a disturbing nature. This, of course, is when she was in the midst of her marriage break up and her miscarriage. The necklace of thorns I think is very symbolic of her piece of mind at the time. The black cat looking over her left shoulder, and the dead bird hanging from the thorns create a very eerie atmosphere, and the picture as a whole gives me a feeling of desperate sadness. The painting done in 1947 is the only self-portrait where Frida wears her hair loose.

On page 4 we see one of the first and last portraits Frida made of herself. In picture 1, her last portrait we see her husband in her heart, and his mistress, Maria in her mind. The cat which appears in much of her work, is again positioned behind her left shoulder. In picture two, the frame intrigued me. The artist uses ornate designs and vivid colours to surround her, which gives me the feeling that she is happy. Frida Kahlo’s work has made me look harder, and become more aware of the feelings being expressed by the artist in order to create their work.



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