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The Iconic Frida Kahlo

I love Frida Kahlo.  I love the brutality and the deeply personal nature of her paintings, the abandon with which she lived her life, her fierce devotion to her country and her lovers.  I am intrigued by the mysteries and the ambiguities of her life.   The way my coworker Kelli swoons over Abe Lincoln, growing giddy at the thought of holding a lock of Lincoln’s hair…that’s the way I feel about Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo was a Mexican painter, a revolutionary, a radical.  Born in 1907, as a teenager she was involved in a brutal streetcar accident that haunted her for the rest of her life, influencing many of her paintings.  Her nontraditional relationships with other artists and revolutionary figures of the time including Diego Rivera, Andre Breton, Josephine Baker, and Leon Trotsky greatly shaped her work and theirs.  Drawing upon indigenous folk art, her body of work is celebrated in Mexico for its tradition and nationality and she is embraced by feminists worldwide for her honest, unwavering view of the female form and experience.   In a time and place when the predominant artistic style was epic depictions of Mexican history, Kahlo chose to paint small, intimate, and often graphic depictions of her most personal struggles.

Walker Art Center’s publication of Frida Kahlo has given me something to pour over during these warm summer nights, offering a glimpse into Kahlo’s complicated life story and the times in which she lived. The bold, colorful book compiles several academic essays, a wealth of personal history told through personal photographs, a great collection of Kahlo’s paintings, and a timeline spanning her life (1907-1954).  The book demonstrates her development from young student artist to the international cult figure she has become, revealing a visionary who wrestled with her physical and emotional demons in a startling intimate yet public manner.

If you like Kahlo’s work, I would strongly recommend you make a trip to Kansas City’s Nelson Atkins Museum of Art to check out Masterpieces of Modern Mexico, a temporary exhibit that highlights Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.  The exhibit, which runs through August 18, includes over a hundred pieces never before seen in our area, including several famous paintings by Kahlo.  If you just can’t get enough, La Casa Azul, her house turned museum in Mexico City, is currently displaying an incredible exhibition of Kahlo’s wardrobe.  Kahlo was known for her beautiful collection of indigenous inspired dresses and jewelry.   After her death, they were put under lock and key for almost sixty years, only recently unearthed and displayed.  “Appearances Can Be Deceiving:  The Dresses of Frida Kahlo” will be on display through January 31, 2014.

4 Comments

  1. Liza says:

    This is a brilliant review; I especially love the manner in which you reveal your knowledge and passion for the subject matter, and at the same time, leave enticing breadcrumbs throughout the narrative which effectively spark the reader’s interest in learning more about this remarkable woman. I certainly hope you manage a trip to Mexico City!

    • Jim says:

      I like your essay Rachel.

      I have appreciated Diego a great deal myself and I enjoyed seeing his work firsthand. But the work in the Nelson’s Modern Mexico exhibit that I really liked was the tire installation by Betsabeé Romero. And the work by Brad Kahlhamer called Bowery Nation. Not in the Frida show of course but somewhere in that new east wing.

      • Rachael says:

        Jim,

        I agree with you, Betsabeé Romero was amazing! I also loved the photography of Lola Álvarez Bravo and the oil painting by Leonora Carrington. I wished they had pieces by Remedios Varo, my current favorite Mexico Modernist/Surrealist. Bowery Nation reminded me of work I have seen in Raw Vision Magazine (which we carry at the library). All in all, I loved my visit to the Nelson and plan to see the Mexican Modernists again before they leaves us…

    • Rachael says:

      Thanks for the encouragement, Liza! Mexico City, here I come…

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