Sunday, April 27, 2008

DECOY: The Creative Class 1

Frida Kahlo was born on July 6, 1907 in the house of her parents, known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán. At the time, this was a small town on the outskirts of Mexico City.

The Mexican Revolution began in 1910 when Kahlo was three years old. Later, however, Kahlo claimed that she was born in 1910 so people would directly associate her with the revolution. In her writings, she recalled that her mother would usher her and her sisters inside the house as gunfire echoed in the streets of her hometown, which was extremely poor at the time. Occasionally, men would leap over the walls into their backyard and sometimes her mother would prepare a meal for the hungry revolutionaries.

Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left, which Kahlo disguised by wearing long skirts.

(in DC at the National Women's Museum)

On September 17, 1925, Kahlo was riding in a bus when the vehicle collided with a trolley car.

She suffered serious injuries in the accident, including a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, and a dislocated shoulder. An iron handrail pierced her abdomen and her uterus, which seriously damaged her reproductive ability.
Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she was plagued by relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. The pain was intense and often left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. She underwent as many as thirty-five operations as a result of the accident, mainly on her back and her right leg and foot.

While she recovered in a full body cast; she painted to occupy her time during her temporary state of immobilization. Her self-portraits became a dominant part of her life when she was immobile for three months after her accident. She once said, "I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best". Her mother had a special easel made for her so she could paint in bed, and her father lent her his box of oil paints and some brushes. Frida's bed was also fitted with a canopy mirror fixed to its underside so she could see herself and act as her own model.

Frida was a student at the National Preparatory School in Mexico City, while Diego Rivera painted the Creation mural in the Bolivar Amphitheatre. She would often stay and watch him paint.
Later as a young artist, Kahlo approached the famous Mexican painter whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He immediately recognized her talent and her unique expression as truly special and uniquely Mexican. He encouraged her development as an artist and, soon began an intimate relationship with Frida. They were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Frida's mother. They often were referred to as The Elephant and the Dove, a nickname that originated when Kahlo's father used it to express their extreme difference in size

The marriage of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo is one of the most famous alliances between artists.
Diego and Frida's marriage was nothing less than stormy. They loved each other very much, but Diego was a well-known womanizer, and had several affairs throughout the course of their marriage (including one with Frida's sister).
Frida also had many lovers, both men and women, including the communist, Leon Trotsky, the famous actresses Dolores Del Rio and Paulette Goddard. She was also involved in affairs with the wife of the surrealist poet Andre Breton and the famous artist Georgia O'Keeffe.
In 1940, Frida and Diego divorced, but the separation only lasted one year. On December 8th, Diego's 54th birthday, Frida and Diego were married for a second time

Drawing on personal experiences, including her marriage, her miscarriages, and her numerous operations, Kahlo's works often are characterized by their stark portrayals of pain. Of her 143 paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds.

Kahlo was deeply influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors and dramatic symbolism. She frequently included the symbolic monkey. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, yet Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols. Christian and Jewish themes are often depicted in her work. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings.

At the invitation of André Breton (the leader of Surrealism), she went to France in 1939 and was featured at an exhibition of her paintings in Paris. When Breton tried to convince Frida to join the group, she would have nothing to do with it. "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't,'' she said. "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.''The Louvre bought one of her paintings, The Frame, which was displayed at the exhibit. This was the first work by a 20th century Mexican artist ever purchased by the internationally renowned museum.

In 2004 a trunk was discovered in the back of an old wardrobe that had been forgotten in an unused bathroom. Kahlo is known as much for her outspoken and sometimes outrageous style as for her intensely personal paintings.Kahlo was known in part for her fashion leadership, and was featured on the cover of Vogue's French edition.

While most women were turning toward the simple, elegant dresses, Kahlo was wearing long, full skirts that borrowed heavily from Mexico's traditional Indian dress. She often had her hair in braids, and refused to remove a mustache or trim her unibrow, both of which she exaggerated in her signature self-portraits.

The trunk of clothes was found during a renovation of her family's home, where she died in 1954 after a life of nearly constant pain and dozens of surgeries for broken bones she suffered in the bus accident. Inside were dresses, tablecloths and a letter from Rivera.

The clothes were a window on Kahlo's life. The curators of her museum were struck not only by the actual garments, but by the fact that they still smelled of Kahlo.

"There is still a trace of that very particular odor," said Magdalena Rosen Zweig, who helped restore the clothing. "It's not mildew or mothballs, but the smell of a person, cigarettes, perfume. It's a very particular smell, something that makes the clothing come alive. It's something that helps you understand a person."

Some of the skirts were stained by Kahlo's oil paint, and one had a small, scorched hole from a cigarette.

"We respected that during the restoration process ... because it is part of history," Rosen Zweig said in an interview.

Besides providing a comprehensive look at Kahlo's style, the clothes also reveal how tiny she was. Rivera, more than 6 feet tall and about 300 pounds, towered over the 5-foot-3 Kahlo, who weighed less than 100 pounds. The disparity prompted Kahlo's mother to nickname the couple "the elephant and the dove."

"She has such a small waist," Rosen Zweig said. "You can't find mannequins her size. She had a tiny waist and a very small back. Everything about her was tiny."

Her body, crippled by disease and the bus accident, was the main topic of many of her paintings -- stark self-portraits that depicted her unending pain and inability to have children.

Clothing became a way to hide or even address her physical disabilities. After suffering a broken back, she often wore a hard, plaster corset that she painted with intricate designs. During her months of bed rest, "it was a ritual to get dressed," Rosen Zweig said.

She noted that the clothes showed how Kahlo's style evolved. As a young woman, she wore high-neck blouses and black gloves that may have belonged to her mother. Later, she mixed loose-fitting dresses with ornate necklaces, ear rings, flowers and hair ribbons.
(Associated Press)

Curators opened the lid to find hundreds of Frida Kahlo's colorful skirts and blouses, many still infused with the late artist's perfume and cigarette smoke.

It has taken two years to log and restore the nearly 300 articles of clothing.

A few days before Frida Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she wrote in her diary: "I hope the exit is joyful - and I hope never to return - Frida". The official cause of death was given as pulmonary embolism, although some suspected that she died from overdose that may or may not have been accidental. No autopsy was ever performed. She had been very ill throughout the previous year and her right leg had been amputated at the knee, owing to gangrene. She also had a bout of bronchopneumonia near that time, which had left her quite frail.

In 1953, one year before Kahlo's death, while Diego was enshrined as Mexico's greatest living painter, he gave an interview in which he stated, "Frida Kahlo is the greatest Mexican painter. Her work is destined to be multiplied by reproductions and will speak, thanks to books, to the whole world. It is one of the most formidable artistic documents and most intense testimonies on human truth of our time.''

Later, in his autobiography, Diego Rivera wrote that the day Kahlo died was the most tragic day of his life, adding that, too late, he had realized that the most wonderful part of his life had been his love for her.


The hand earring painted in this portrait was given to Frida as a gift from Picasso the first time they met.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo : An Intimate Self-Portrait

Frida Kahlo kept an amazing diary throughout her life full of sketches, writings, ink drawings and water color paintings.
Featuring more than three hundred illustrations, half of them in full color, a facsimile of the diary--never before published--of the twentieth-century Mexican artist in its original size is accompanied by an English transcription and commentary. This is an wonderful book to flip through and will be a excellent gift for any Frida fan.

If you ever get the chance to travel to Mexico, then make special plans to stop by the home that Frida was born and died in. La Casa Azul in Coyoacán, a town on the outskirts of Mexico City..

The gardens.

Frida Kahlo's House
Original furniture, letters, objects and Frida´s dresses. Through them it is easier to live her love to popular art ; her intelectual life beside Diego Rivera and health difficulties. It has become a kind of devotional site known as The Blue House. 247 Londres St., Coyoacán.

While you're there, The Trotsky's House is just around the corner. Home to Leon Trotsky a Ukrainian-born Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist. He was one of the leaders of the Russian October Revolution, second only to Lenin. And remember, one of Frida's lovers!
The Trotsky's house was preserved in much the same condition as it was on the day of the assassination and is now a small museum and cultural center where the soviet leader lived his last days before he was assasinated and killed with a pick ice by NKVD agent, Ramón Mercader. Trotsky's last words were "I will not survive this attack. Stalin has finally accomplished the task he attempted unsuccessfully before."
45 Viena St. and Río Churubusco Ave., Coyoacán.


BiChi said...

Post wonderful!the story of Frida deserves to be counted,
so we can understand her art! c-ya. saludos desde Argentina.

Sofia Best said...

Uhmmmm.... Coyoacan is actually IN Mexico City... not at the outskirts