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My Favorite Artists and Their Art: Frida Kahlo

  • Mar 8, 2011
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Frida Kahlo was an extraordinary woman, whose life was full of tragedy, love, politics, but most importantly art. Kahlo remains a unique figure in art history since she, unlike so many other female artists, developed her own style that became uniquely associated with her. Whether creating symbolist portraits of herself or surreal montages of everyday life, her works have a primitive emotional quality and an insight that is unrivaled by many of her peers, including her artist husband and mentor Diego Rivera. Kahlo's paintings are lush, sensuous masterpieces that expose the hopes and heartbreaks she experienced.
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico), Diego, Me, and Senor Xolotl
Kahlo's two dominant styles, or at least the two styles that I'm most attracted to in her work, are probably the surrealist and symbolist. This painting remains the key to her entire personality in many ways. On the one hand, you have Kahlo in the painting, accompanied by River in an infantile form, but you also have contrasting realities of light and darkness, the heavens and the earth, life and death. The colors alone are wonderful and the fluidity of the forms is quite appealing as well.
Frida and the Miscarriage
This is such a powerful, raw, emotional work detailing Kahlo's physical and emotional traumas after her miscarriage. One of the things I love about Kahlo is her bravery when it comes to dealing with strictly feminine issues such as miscarriage, infertility, and menstruation (issues that had been entirely neglected by artists both male in female before her). There's a simplicity to this work that is both distancing and relatable.
Sun and Life
Kahlo's depictions of plantlife and of fruit often have a very subtle evocative quality designed to make us thing of certain aspects of the female anatomy. Here, she uses bright colors, transcendental imagery, and natural elements to indicate her love of nature but also of her own feminine strength.
My Grandparents, My Parents, and I
One of Kahlo's most intimate and revealing paintings. This certainly exposes her love of her family, while also perhaps displaying her existential sadness for having been born and then not being able to give birth.
Split into two sections, this painting has so many details that it's hard to take them all in upon a first viewing. There are numerous religious and political icons, mythological figures, and depictions of people who Kahlo was associated with. This particular painting has an enigmatic quality to it that I love.
Normally, I'm not fond of still life paintings of flowers (I often find them to be ironically lifeless and dull), but I really love this piece. the textures and the colors are at once very realistic and stylized.
Two Nudes in the Forest
This is often the painting that art scholars point to when they talk about Kahlo's alleged lesbianism in her paintings. While there is undoubtedly an erotic quality to many of her paintings, I've always found this one to be more reflective of a kind of sisterly love. The two characters seem to be consoling one another in their mutual melancholy.
What the Water Gave Me
One of the most surreal of Kahlo's paintings and one of myfavorites as she manages to reference many of her other works of art in the reflections in the water. It makes you realize that there's more than a bathing body beneath the surface of the water, but an entire mind full of ideas and emotions and capable of all forms of expression.
The Two Fridas
A lovely painting that displays Kahlo's feelings about being torn in two culturally as her European modernity and sophistication seems to be parasitcally feeding off her traditional and modest Mexican self. A very revealing work that gives insight into Kahlo's conflicted self-perception.
The Broken Column
This painting poetically illustrates how Kahlo externalized her emotions on the canvas. Here we see her literally opened up, her back injury represented by an exposed and fractured pillar where her spine should be, with protruding nails showing her physical discomfort as doctors poke and prod at her body. I think that her tearful eyes make this one of her greatest self-potraits
The Flower of Life
I have no idea if this is an actual flower or a product of Kahlo's fertile imagination, but I really love this painting with it's strange and elaborate blossom.
The Bride Frightened at Seeing Life Opened
One of Kahlo's strangest and most surreal still life apintings in which we see a doll of a bride staring transfixed at a table full of fruits which have been cut open revealing their seeds. Meanwhile, a little Mexican owl perches picturesquely on the table and watches the doll. I suppose that to some extent this painting is meant to communicate the doll's innocence being destroyed by the realization of death and mortality.

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March 13, 2011
I got a T-shirt with the Two Fridas on it, bought it at the Mexican Expo Pavilion during the Expo in Shanghai last year. Cool!
March 10, 2011
Thanks Count since I saw the movie Frida with Salma Hayak, Frida has become my favorite artist. I have been lucky to see some of her work up close in Buenos Aires as well as New York. Along with Picasso, possibly the best artist of the 20th century! Certainly one of the most original.
March 10, 2011
Have you reviewed the film? I still need to see it.
March 09, 2011
this was the artist whose life was portrayed in Frida right? I wasn't too familiar with her works so thanks for this!
March 09, 2011
Yep, that's her. I still haven't seen "Frida" yet, so that's one that I may rent soon...
March 09, 2011
Awesome list, Sean! I'm a huge fan of Frida's for many of the same reasons that you've listed here. She was an amazing woman- full of vision, strength and passion. 2,3,5,8 and 10 are my faves of hers. I'm really struck by 12 and have never seen that one before. I'm going to have to hunt that one down. Thanks for reminding us of her incredible talent!
March 09, 2011
No problem. It's been so much fun doing the "My Favorite Artists and Their Art" list series. The hardest part has been deciding which pieces are indeed my favorites and finding decent files of them online or pictures that I can scan from my art books. I love Kahlo and her work. She was such a fascinating person. I have yet to see the film "Frida" and doing this list really put me in the mood to. I may have to rent it in the near future.
March 09, 2011
You did a really good job with this list! I thoroughly enjoyed that movie but, I'm a big fan of both women- Frida and Salma Hayek, so I could be biased. Check out these reviews of Frida to help see if you should bump it up the queue ;p
March 09, 2011
Oh, my list of movies to rent is pretty long since our rental stores are limited in their collection. But "Frida" is definitely near the top of the list along with some foreign films that I can't seem to find locally.
March 10, 2011
I hear ya, I'm still waiting for Howl to find its way to the top of my queue. Maybe you can Netflix them :)
March 09, 2011
Great list, Count! I was about to point out my faves, but then realized that I'd be pretty much listing all of them. Have you gotten to see these works up close? I had the pleasure of viewing some of these at the Frida Kahlo special exhibit at the San Francisco MOMA a couple of years back. They're eerie, trippy and lovely all at the same time.
March 09, 2011
Sadly no, the only paintings that I've ever viewed the originals of were at an N.C. Wyeth exhibit locally when I was quite young. I'd love to have the time and money to go to more museums.
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