Monday, August 25, 2008

Frida Kahlo

There is a certain theme surrounding much of the art and music discussed on these pages; that creation is often born of personal suffering. Perhaps no better example of this exists than the life and work of Frida Kahlo.

Born in 1907 in Mexico, Frida was aspiring to be a doctor, when at the age of 18, a tragic bus accident forever changed her life course. Having been impaled by a metal pole, suffering a fractured pelvis among other injuries, she spent her recovery time exploring the world of painting.

She later met and married a man 20 years her senior, a famous painter himself, Diego Rivera. Much of the tragedies she encountered during her life have been portrayed masterfully in Frida's surrealist paintings. Diego called her art, "agonized poetry", and certainly agonizing is one of many words people use to describe her work.

Frida had several great losses in her life. Due to the bus accident, she discovered she wasn't able to carry a pregnancy to term. Desperately wanting to be a mother, both the loss of actual pregnancies as well as the loss of the idea of being a mother come across in her works.
The painting "Henry Ford Hospital"(1932) was painted after one of her miscarriages. This was the very first time in art history that an artist created a painting specific to the death of an unborn child. The painting communicates more than this loss. It also portrays Frida's suffering and isolation which followed. Represented here are 6 objects symbolizing different aspects of her anguish: Model of female reproductive system, a male fetus, a snail (represents the slowness of miscarriage), pelvic bones responsible for the loss, an orchid (symbol of fertility) and an autoclave for surgical instruments.

Although the bus accident happened at age 18, Frida continued to have problems with her spine requiring extended periods at home in traction. This next painting "The Broken Column"(1944) was painted during a 5 month period that she wore a steel orthopedic corset. She wrote in her diary, "To hope with anguish retained, the broken column, and the immense look, without walking, in the vast path...moving my life created of steel".

Notice the cracked iconic column in place of her injured spine and her flesh pierced with nails. The background landscaped is also cracked and open as tears fall from her eyes.

The final painting of suffering to look at is "Without Hope"(1945). The name itself should give indication to the feelings portrayed in this painting. Here again is Frida, stuck in her four poster bed that she spent so much time in. The landscape has become even more barren than the 1944 picture. Above her is a funnel, force feeding her all types of meat products. Again the classic white tears fall.This time of constant pain and isolation from surgeries was more profound knowing that in 1940 she and Diego had divorced. He had not only been caught being unfaithful many times, but in fact had a yearlong affair with Frida's younger sister Cristina. This then was yet another huge loss in her life.

As she became more and more ill, she became very aware of her own mortality. She had had over 35 operations in her lifetime. She wrote of her own death, "I hope the departure is joyful, and I hope never to return". Frida Kahlo died in 1954, thought ultimately to have died of a pulmonary embolus.

If you're in California, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is hosting a Frida Kahlo exhibit until Sept. 28, 2008. For Online I suggest The Art History Archive which has over 70 of her works.

3 Responses to “Frida Kahlo”

Unknown said...
August 26, 2008 at 7:42 AM

Of course you meant to write that "Henry Ford Hospital" was painted in 1932 -- not 1832.

Amy Clarkson said...
August 26, 2008 at 9:00 AM

Thanks for the astute catch of my error... It's changed immediatly!

Amy Clarkson MD said...
March 16, 2011 at 11:53 PM

Thanks for the astute catch of my error... It's changed immediatly!