Put some flowers in your hair, drape yourself in bold fabrics and listen to a chat about the colorful and dramatic life and art of Frida Kahlo.
If you thought selfies were an invention of the Twentytens, step back in a time a bit farther. The majority of Frida’s art was of herself- it’s how she told her story. Frida experienced a great deal of pain and joy (and every emotion in between) in her lifetime, and painting was how she expressed herself.
Born (deep breath) Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderon on July 6, 1907 to Guillermo and Matilda Kahlo in Coyoacan, Mexico. She was the third of four daughters, although Papa had two girls with his first wife.
Frida’s childhood was off to a tumultuous start when the Mexican Revolution broke out when she was 3. A few years later, she contracted polio and was bedridden for most of a year. Both of these events foreshadowed some very significant challenges that would come her way.
But first she had to grow-up! We talk about her schooling, her neighborhood shenanigans and her entre into a prestigious school to study to become a doctor. While there she gets her first taste of radical political life and she meets a man- muralist Diego Rivera. At this point, Frida’s role in his life was to taunt him while he tried to work…or play (Diego excelled at “play”).
When Frida was 18, she boarded a bus with her boyfriend, just like she did every day. But that day the bus and a trolley collided. Frida was left with severe injuries that affect her physically for the rest of her life. We do go into details during the podcast, and give a warning because the accident and recovery was horrific.
A teenager, laying at home immobilized by a full-body cast, would get bored very quickly. Her parents set Frida up with paints, a mirror over her bed and an easel- the result? Frida’s first painting- a self portrait. More paintings came and we talk about some of them. When she is finally vertical she brings a sample of her work to her former tormentee: Diego.
And he liked them!
And he liked her!
Of course we go into greater detail in the podcast, but in short order Frida and Diego marry. He was 22 years her senior and was almost a foot and 200 pounds larger but the match between, “an elephant and a dove” (as her mama claimed) was passionate and electric.
Diego’s job as muralist took him many places, and Frida followed. She continued to paint although her very small, mostly self-portraits juxtaposed with his large and quite full murals mirrored the physical dissimilarities that they had. The couple traveled to the United States, where she was “Mrs. Rivera” ( and not much else) but is celebrated because of her relationship to the famous painter. For a variety of reasons (that we cover, you know the podcast is much fuller than these shownotes, right?) she is not happy in the United States and eventually, they work their way back to Mexico.
But with great passion often comes great drama. Diego has never managed (or even attempted) to keep himself away from other women, and- quite frankly- Frida didn’t do such a great job keeping herself away from other women (and men), either. Their love was…er- unique. And so was their house!
And then this happened.
And things get pretty dramatic for a few years (like they weren’t before?) It’s like a telenovela…except it’s real! We do our best to keep this talk PG-13, we really do, but their lives weren’t all that PG-13. For instance, after a separation, then a reconciliation of sorts, they take in exiled Russian Revolutionary, Leon Trotsky and his wife. A short affair ensues (Frida with Leon). Later, Trotsky is killed while in Mexico: Diego and Frida are suspects for a short time, but Diego had conveniently left the country. See? Drama.
All of the drama really fires up her art. Frida painted to work through her feelings and she clearly had a lot of feelings that needed to be addressed. Because of that, her art was beginning to get noticed. She was given several exhibits in both New York and Paris.
Paris loves her!
The Parisians adore her style and slap her on the cover of Paris Vogue.
But she and Diego need eachother. Somehow. They work out an amiable arrangement and get married again. For several years she takes care of him, he takes care of her…they move back into the Casa Azul and have a colorful and workable relationship.
But Frida’s health has never been good. Several pregnancies that never came to term took a toll on her body, as well as lifelong complications from her bus accident. She spends the better part of her last years in bed or hospitalized.
On July 13th, 1954, at the age of 47, Frida Kahlo dies at her home. Official cause: Pulmonary Embolism. Unofficial Speculation: suicide or assisted suicide.
Her remains were cremated and are still on display at Casa Azul.
TIME TRAVEL WITH THE HISTORY CHICKS
You want to look at lots of pictures of Frida- you must! She told her biography through her paintings, and there are a lot of images of her to be seen. Click on over to the Frida Kahlo Museum, or The Frida Kahlo Foundation to get started. The first you can visit and is located in her family home, Casa Azul in Coyoacon, Mexico.
Here is the link (about a documentary) that we spoke about where you can roll your mouse over some of her art for explanations, Life and Times of Frida Kahlo, PBS.
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Beckett talked about this. Click on RELATED MULTIMDIA to start your adventure.
BOOKS! Start with the books Susan recommended. First up, historical fiction:
For the most part, we both really appreciated the books the showed her life along side her paintings- it’s the perfect way to understand both. If you find one, even ones we don’t recommend here, grab it. There are many exceptional art books about her out there.
We forgot to mention this one, but it was really great for kids:
As always, music comes courtesy of Music Alley. Visit them at Music. mevio.com