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Frida Khalo: Her Love and Pain Expressed Through Art

Updated on July 5, 2012
La Columna Rota, 1944.
La Columna Rota, 1944. | Source

Revolutionary Times Call for a Revolutionary Lady

Frida Khalo was born just three short years before Mexico's revolution in 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico. It was amid this turmoil and tension that she grew up. Her mother was Mexican of Indigenous decent and her father was a German immigrant. The Revolution of 1910 set the stage, perhaps, for the turmoil that was to be Frida's life for the next five decades.

At age six, she contracted polio, and although she recovered from it, she kept a limp. In 1925, Frida was in a bus accident that left her with a broken spinal column, a broken collar bone, several broken ribs, a broken pelvis, fractures in her right leg, a crushed right foot and a dislocated shoulder. Needless to say, these injuries would haunt her for the rest of her life and did, as evident in her 1944 painting of herself nude, wearing a brace, and with a broken spinal column.

It was shortly after this that she began painting, and shortly after that that she began a relationship with artist and womanizer, Diego Rivera. Both political activists and fellow communists, they hit it off right away, and were married a year later, in 1929. Her tumultuous relationship with the unfaithful Diego is evident in many of her paintings.

Las Dos Fridas, 1939.
Las Dos Fridas, 1939. | Source
Autorretrato Como Tehuana o Diego en mi Pensamiento, 1943.
Autorretrato Como Tehuana o Diego en mi Pensamiento, 1943. | Source

Frida and Diego, Frida and Medicine

Before the accident, Frida was attending Preparatoria, one of Mexico's most renown schools to study medicine. This perhaps explains her affinity to include the human anatomy in most of her paintings. The painting above, The Two Fridas, shows one Frida with a damaged heart, and the other with her heart intact. One can speculate that this painting symbolizes a loved Frida, dressed in bold colors, and a Frida dressed in white who is bleeding. The white Frida is perhaps symbolic of a weaker version of herself--the one that gets hurt. It's worthwhile to note here that while the accident that left her with so many injuries was the cause of her physical pain, Diego was the cause of her emotional pain.

As you can see on the picture to the right titled, Diego in My Thoughts, Diego Rivera was a big part of her life and inspiration. Diego, also an artist and a revolutionary, had a unique style of his own, but one can see similarities. The difference is that Frida incorporated surrealism into her art, something that is evident in this picture, but even more so in paintings that seem to be associated with her dreams.

El Abrazo de Amor de el Universo, la Tierra, Yo, Diego, y el Senor Xoloto, 1949.
El Abrazo de Amor de el Universo, la Tierra, Yo, Diego, y el Senor Xoloto, 1949. | Source
Lo Que el Agua Me Dio, 1938.
Lo Que el Agua Me Dio, 1938. | Source

Frida's Surrealism

Frida was influenced a great deal by Mexican culture and mythology, as is evident with the use of bright colors and Indigenous symbols. I think where surrealism played a big part was with her miscarriages and her physical state. Sadly, due to her physical conditions, she was never able to carry a pregnancy to term. Although a child was something Frida desperately wanted, it was not to be for her. In the painting to the right, What the Water Gave Me, surrealism takes on the entire painting, not just one aspect of it, as in The Two Fridas, or Diego in My Thoughts.

I find that Frida's surrealism was an outlet for her feelings. She didn't hold back in her art. It is interesting to see how this could be interpreted as grotesque, or insensitive. While on a trip to New York with her husband, Diego, Frida was commissioned to paint a piece in memory of Dorothy Hale, who had committed suicide the year before by throwing herself out of a window of the Hampshire House Building. The piece she painted, while breathtakingly beautiful, shocked Dorothy Hale's mother, and you can see why below. Surely, she was expecting something solemn and memorable, but Frida was true to herself and to her art in painting this.

El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale, 1938-39.
El Suicidio de Dorothy Hale, 1938-39. | Source

Firda is Gone, But Not Forgotten

Frida died in 1954, shortly after turning 47. The last entry in her diary read, "I hope the exit is joyful--and I hope to never return--Frida." After an on again, off again, on again relationship that surprisingly endured twenty five years with Diego, until very recently she had only been recognized as Diego's wife. It wasn't until the early 1980s that she became well known to the public and also became an important female figure in Mexican history. Ironically, it was on the day that she died that Diego realized too late that she was the most important thing in his life.

En la Frontera Entre Mexico y los Estados Unidos, 1932.
En la Frontera Entre Mexico y los Estados Unidos, 1932. | Source
Arbol de la Esperanza, Mantente Firme, 1946.
Arbol de la Esperanza, Mantente Firme, 1946. | Source

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    • emmaspeaks profile image

      emmaspeaks 4 years ago from Kansas City

      YES! I just went to it last week and it is pretty awesome. Lover her work.

    • moncrieff profile image

      moncrieff 4 years ago from New York, NY

      Interesting hub about Khalo. Currently in Kansas City we have an exhibition featuring her and Rivera's works. This hub compels me to go to see her work. Thanks.

    • emmaspeaks profile image

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Definitely, Tony. She said once when someone claimed that she painted things that were in her dreams, "I don't paint my dreams, I paint my reality."

    • TonyA4 profile image

      TonyA4 5 years ago from Santa Fe, NM

      I must say that even though Frida was one of the least Prolific major Artists, Frida's images were some of the most Powerful of any Artist before or since. I think the power of her images are reflected in the travesties she faced in life from an Early age.

    • emmaspeaks profile image

      emmaspeaks 5 years ago from Kansas City

      Technically, it was an embolism, I believe, but it was never confirmed if it was self induced by taking too much medication, in other words, suicide. She had been taken in for a suicide attempt previously. I didn't want to get too much into that, but I probably should have. The last few years of her life were pretty miserable. She got gang green in her right foot and it had to come off. She was in a back brace and bedridden for most of the time. It was sad, really, but she was a strong woman and pulled through as long as she could. She also drank and smoked, so that only made her health worse. Thanks for the comments, guys! I am learning about her in college right now, so I decided to put some of my knowledge to work for me, haha!

    • YogaKat profile image

      YogaKat 5 years ago from Oahu Hawaii

      It was very bold of her to paint Dorothy Hale in such a way. This was a great description of an amazing woman. I am wondering how she died.

    • hecate-horus profile image

      hecate-horus 5 years ago from Rowland Woods

      I've always been fascinated by this enigmatic woman, but I didn't know that much about her. The paintings are so haunting and vivid. Thanks for this great hub! Voted up and shared