Here at Urban Exposure Studio, we love to celebrate the artists that inspire our creativity. One of our all-time favorite artists is Frida Kahlo, the celebrated Mexican painter who made a name for herself through her unusual self-portraits. Kahlo used her art to explore what it meant to be a Mexican woman in the 21st Century, and she loved to combine fantasy and realism. Frida Kahlo embodies everything we love about art: she was quirky, had great style, and knew how to express herself.
Because we love Frida so much, we’ve decided to dedicate an entire blog post to her. We’ve included all you need to know about this incredible artist, but if you want to appreciate her work even more, make sure you check it out online. Her exploration of identity is as relevant now as it was back when she was alive, and you might find that her work inspires you to create some incredible art. When you’re done here, why not check out our Frida Kahlo collection of handbags so you can carry her with you wherever you go!
The bags are available in our store, at this link: https://www.urbanexposurestudio.com/store/Frida-Kahlo-Collection-c29243073
Frida Kahlo was born on 6th July 1907 in Coyoacán, a small village near Mexico City. Her parents were German-born Guillermo Kahlo and Mexican native Matilde Calderón y González. Kahlo had three sisters and two half-sisters, although her half-sisters were raised in a convent away from the family home.
Kahlo contracted polio when she was 6, and this led to her right leg being considerably shorter and thinner than her left. It also meant that she was very isolated for months while ill, and was seriously bullied by her peers once she was better. Because of this isolation, Kahlo’s father taught her about literature, philosophy, and photography, and insisted she play sports to regain strength in her leg.
Her illness meant that she started school later than planned, and unlike her sisters. Kahlo didn’t join a convent school after kindergarten. Instead she was enrolled in a German school, although she was soon expelled for disobedience. In 1922, at the age of 15, Kahlo was accepted into the National Preparatory School, one of the most prestigious schools in Mexico. She was only one of 35 female pupils at the school, and she focused on natural sciences with the intention of becoming a doctor. During her time at school she became interested in political activism and social justice, focusing mainly on embracing the heritage of the indigenous people, and ridding themselves of colonial practices.
Kahlo practiced art from an early age, and in 1925 she got a job as an engraver. However, she didn’t even consider art being a career at this point in her life, most probably due to the perceptions of women in work that would have been instilled in her at school.
Also in 1925, Kahlo was in a horrible bus accident that nearly killed her. She escaped with fractured ribs, legs, and collarbone, along with a handrail impaling her pelvis. The accident unfortunately ended her plans to become a doctor, and she suffered with pain from her injuries for the rest of her life. As part of her recovery, she was ordered to wear a plaster corset and forced to rest in bed for 3 months. It was during this recovery time that she began to paint seriously. She had a special easel made that fitted over the bed, and a mirror installed on the ceiling so she could see herself. And this is how she got started on the path of being a portrait artist.
Kahlo joined the Mexican Communist Party in 1927, and began to get heavily involved in political activism again. In 1928, Kahlo was introduced to her future husband, Diego Rivera, a successful artist and vocal communist. After seeing her paintings, Rivera was impressed by her style, and encouraged her to pursue a career as an artist. The two began a relationship, and despite disapproval from Kahlo’s mother, they married in 1929. After their marriage, the couple moved to Cuernavaca, Mexico, as Rivera had been commissioned to complete a job there. During this time, Kahlo began to embrace the dress of indigenous Mexican peasants to celebrate her ancestry. This is the style we all know her by, and is part of what we love the most about her.
During the early 30s, Kahlo and Rivera travelled around the United States due to Rivera picking up more jobs. During this time, Kahlo continued to develop her folk art style, and painted some of her most famous works, such as Frieda and Diego Rivera and The Portrait of Luther Burbank. During her time in Detroit, Kahlo began to experiment with etching and frescoes, something of a new style for her. Her paintings began to find a stronger narrative, and she consciously worked against the popular Mexican art style of the time.
In 1934 Kahlo moved back to Mexico, which caused a strain in her relationship. She didn’t produce any new paintings for the first two years of her return, mainly due to continuing health problems. She discovered in 1935 that Rivera had been having an affair with one of her sisters, and so left him. She also then started her own affair with American artist Isamu Noguchi. However, Rivera and Kahlo made up in 1935 and moved back in together.
A vast majority of her work was completed in 1937 and 1938, and Kahlo believed she produced more work in these two years than in the previous eight. She began to receive international recognition during this period, and sold some of her paintings for considerable sums of money. She began travelling back to America, where her traditional Mexican style caught many eyes and caused quite a sensation. She also managed to sell many paintings, despite the Great Depression that was ravaging the American economy.
Rivera and Kahlo divorced in 1939, although the real reason was never stated. They remained friends however, and actually remarried in 1940. She also continued to produce a vast number of works, many of which were exhibited and sold at the time.
During the 40s, and until her death, Kahlo continued to suffer with health problems related to her accident. She had to wear supportive braces, and had many corrective surgeries. She also suffered major infections, and syphilis. In 1950, she underwent a major surgery in an attempt to fix her spine, although it didn’t work. In fact, she was forced to use a wheelchair for the last few years of her life.
Despite these health problems, Kahlo continued to paint, and finally began to earn a decent living from her work. She also continued to be politically active on the Mexican scene, favoring causes such as the rights of indigenous people, and women’s societal rights.
In 1954, Kahlo contracted bronchopneumonia, which possibly led to her death. She attended a protest against the CIA in July of that year, and 10 days later was found dead in her bed. Her nurse believed she may have taken a drug overdose, as her medication was carefully controlled. This was never confirmed though, as no autopsy was ever performed on her body. Her body was displayed under a communist flag, and then cremated the next day. Her ashes are on display in a pre-Colombian urn at La Casa Azul, which is now a museum. Rivera was heartbroken over her death, and he died three years later.
Frida Kahlo’s artistic style
There’s no official record of how many paintings she produced in her lifetime, but estimates range from 150 to 200. Her early work is inspired by Renaissance art and the avant-garde movement, but her later work draws heavily on Mexican folk art. Her style ended up being a mix of reality and surrealism, and she often focused on the subjects of pain and death.
She was also heavily influenced by the idea of Mexican post-colonial nationalism, and the idea of Mexican identity. This theme can be seen running through many of her paintings, and her narratives specifically go against the idea of white European superiority.
Frida Kahlo’s most famous paintings
This painting depicts Frida lying on her side, and she appears to have given birth to a vine. The painting is heavy on symbolism, but it would be too boring to give that away. Instead, try and work out for yourself what it means.
A Few Small Nips (1935)
This painting was a reaction to discovering Rivera’s affair, and the subject draws comparisons with a local news story in which a woman was murdered for being unfaithful. The painting is typical Kahlo, as it depicts violence and death, and has a very strong narrative.
The Broken Column (1944)
This painting was done as an exploration of her medical issues, and clearly depicts her spinal problems. Kahlo explored her issues through art, and this painting is very striking in its unashamed look at her personal struggle.
Frida Kahlo is an artist to be celebrated, and we love her because she embraces everything an artist should. We were so inspired by her vision and creativity that we paid tribute to her through our Frida Kahlo collection of bags.