Even if one is not an art enthusiast, you would probably
recognize Frida Kahlo's paintings. Today, fifty-one years after her
death, she's at the height of her popularity. Frida is the lady that
does so many self- portraits in Mexican dress with the dark eyebrows
that meet in the middle. The Travel Lady was thrilled to hear that
the Tate Modern was presenting a Frida Kahlo exhibit in London
this past summer when she was there on vacation. She had seen the
Kahlo exhibit at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art several
years ago - but this show promised to be even more inclusive. It
wasn't a disappointment. The Tate Modern had gathered eighty of
Kahlo's works - exhibited in eleven rooms. Since Kahlo's oeuvre
consisted of only 200 pieces, this is an impressive collection - almost
half of her body of work gathered from many sources.
Kahlo's works have not always been appreciated. She died in 1954 and it wasn't until a year before her death that she was given her own solo show in her own country, Mexico.
I must admit that I, like many people, have always found her life story more intriguing than her art. Born in 1907 in Mexico, Frida was a bright, rebellious, intellectual student that wanted to be a doctor. At the age of eighteen, riding a wooden bus, she was almost fatally injured. The bus collided with a tram and Frida was pierced completely through (from one side to the other) with a metal bar. Besides that injury, she had four broken bones, eleven fractures and a crushed foot. She had to deal with pain the rest of her life, having thirty-two operations and being bed-ridden for months at a time. It was during her initial convalescence that she started to paint. She used self-portraits as a means to deal with her pain and suffering.
Her love affair and marriage (twice) to the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, contributed to her legend. Rivera was twenty years her senior. His frequent infidelities added to the torture of Frida's life - especially his affair with her own confidante and sister. But when she attempted life without him, she felt insecure without his praise and support. Rivera had supported and praised her work long before others found value in it. Diego claimed she had more talent than he, himself, had. But, in retaliation for his infidelities, Frida embarked on a series of affairs herself. The most famous of these was Leon Trotsky, who was exiled in Mexico from Russia. Frida and Diego both were communist and helped harbor the man Stalin has exiled. The affair ended with Trotsky. Several years later he met an untimely death with an ax to the head - by a soviet agent.
But Kahlo's love for Rivera was always the central focus of her life. She was quoted as saying that she had two catastrophes in her life. One was the bus wreck, "the second was Rivera." The painting of their wedding, showing Frida as the Mexican bride in traditional dress, and Rivera with his painting palette in his hand, was at the London show. But its home, fortunately for us, is the SF MOMA. So when it returns, it will be back on view in San Francisco.
Admittedly, many of her works at first seem somewhat strange. Considering her life makes them understandable. Over the years I have learned to appreciate her work more and the London show added to my enjoyment. It was a great pleasure to see so many pieces in person. If you wish to know more about this incredible woman, Selma Hayek did a wonderful film on her life and there are numerous books on her life. Frida Kahlo could be called many things - but boring wasn't one of them. She was one colorful woman.