Search form

Life and Times of Frida Kahlo - Artwork Reviews

Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo.

Harper & Row Publishers. New York: 1983.

"What passed through Frida Kahlo's head and into her art was some of the most original and dramatic imagery of the 20th century. Painting herself bleeding, weeping, cracked open, she transmuted her pain into art with remarkable frankness tempered by humor and fantasy. Always specific and personal, deep-probing rather than comprehensive in scope, Frida's autobiography in paint has a particular intensity and strength - a strength that can hold the viewer in an uncomfortably tight grip.

"The majority of her paintings are small - 12 by 15 inches is not unusual; their scale suits the intimacy of her subject matter. With very small sable brushes, which she kept immaculately clean, she would carefully lay down delicate strokes of color, bringing the image into precise focus, making fantasy persuasive through the rhetoric of realism."

Mencimer, Stephanie. The Trouble with Frida Kahlo.

The Washington Monthly: June 2002.

"Kahlo's art is to painting what the memoir is to literature - self-absorbed, confessional, and hard to dismiss as a flash in the pan.

"[H]er paintings, rooted in 19th-century Mexican portraiture, ingeniously incorporated elements of Mexican pop culture and pre-Columbian primitivism that, in the 1930s, had never been done before. Usually small, intimate paintings that contrasted with the grand mural tradition of her time, her work was often done on sheet metal rather than canvas, in the style of Mexican street artists who painted retablos, or small votive paintings that offer thanks to the Virgin Mary or a saint for a miraculous deliverance from misfortune.

"The paintings often reflect her tumultuous relationship with Rivera, as well as the anguish of her ever-deteriorating health. Between the time of her accident and her death, Kahlo had more than 30 surgeries, and a gangrenous leg was eventually amputated. She dramatized the pain in her paintings, while carefully cultivating a self-image as a 'heroic sufferer.'"

Fuentes, Carlos. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.

Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York: 1995.

"[Frida's] reality is her own face, the temple of her broken body, the soul she has left. Like Rembrandt, like Van Gogh, Kahlo tells her biography through her self-portraits. The stages of passion, innocence, suffering, and finally, wisdom, are as evident in the Mexican as in the two great Dutch self-portraitists. But the aura of strangeness, displacement, of objects and dislocation of sceneries, as well as her spontaneous irrationality, have sometimes associated her, as well, with Surrealism.

"Frida Kahlo understood, as a part of both her European and Mexican heritage, this simple fact: It is one thing to be a body, and another thing to be beautiful. Kahlo managed to establish a distance from ugliness only to see what was ugly, painful, or cruel with a clearer eye, discovering her affinity, if not with the current model, then with the truth about her own self, her own face, her own body. Through her art, Kahlo seems to come to terms with her own reality: The horrible, the painful, can lead us to the truth of self-knowledge. It then becomes beautiful simply because it identifies our very being, our innermost qualities. Kahlo's self-portraits are beautiful for the same reason as Rembrandt's: They show us the successive identities of a human who is not yet, but who is becoming.

"This manner of conceiving beauty as truth and self-knowledge, as becoming - devenir - requires unblinking courage and is Kahlo's great legacy to the marginal, the invisible men and women of an increasingly faceless, anonymous planet, where only the 'photogenic' or the 'shocking' as seen on the screens, merits our vision.

"Socrates, famous for his ugliness, asked us to close our eyes in order to see 'our own internal beauty.' Kahlo goes beyond the Socratic demand to close our eyes and open them to a new way of seeing. Sight is the clearest of all the senses, writes Plotinus, yet it is incapable of seeing the soul. And this is so, he adds, because if we were able to see the soul, it would awaken in us a terrible love, an intolerable love. Only beauty has the privilege of looking at the soul without being blinded.

"This is Kahlo's privilege. Her art is certainly not an absolute way of discovering the inner self and its identification with beauty in spite of external appearances. Far more than that, it is an approximation of self, of becoming, of not yet, never a fulfillment, always an approach, a search for form which, when found, achieves the Yeatsian aesthetics I evoked a few pages back: 'All changed, changed utterly. A terrible beauty is born.'"

Lowe, Sarah M. The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait.

Harry N. Abrams, Inc. New York: 1995.

"If Kahlo's diary is understood as a journal in time, then the roughly 55 self-portraits Kahlo painted (nearly a third of her entire oeuvre), which were intended for public consumption, may be seen as constituting 'autobiography.' In the self-portraits painted with forethought, Kahlo carefully constructs herself in a variety of settings, creating an artistic persona with an audience in mind. The paintings are provocative and aggressively audacious both in subject matter and in intent. Before Kahlo, Western art was unused to images of birthing or miscarriage, double self-portraits with visible internal organs or cross-dressing, as subjects for 'high' art.

"No one questions the capacity of a self-portrait by Rembrandt to convey the anguish of an aging artist facing mortality or the power of one by Van Gogh to express the torment of an isolated and misunderstood artist. Kahlo, too, painted her own psychic states of mind in a flamboyant and sometimes irreverent manner, but her work was deemed so expressly personal and self-referential that it was thought incapable of expressing universal emotions or the human condition. In time, her self-portraits, though they never cease to shock, have overcome some of the prejudices against women painting their own lives."

"Kahlo, Frida," Microsoft® Encarta® Online Encyclopedia 2004 © 1997-2004 Microsoft Corporation. All Rights Reserved.

"Influenced by Rivera's work, Kahlo adopted his use of broad, simplified color areas and a deliberately naive style in her paintings. Like Rivera, she wanted her paintings to affirm her Mexican identity, and she frequently used technical devices and subject matter from Mexican archaeology and folk art. The impact of her work is enhanced by techniques such as the inclusion of fantastic elements, a free use of space, and the juxtaposition of incongruous objects.

"Kahlo primarily depicted her personal experience. She frequently focused on the painful aspects of her life, using graphic imagery to convey her meaning. The turbulence of her marriage is shown in the weeping and physically injured self-portraits she painted when she felt rejected by Rivera. She portrayed her physical disintegration, the result of the bus accident, in such works as 'The Broken Column' (1944, Collection of Dolores Olmedo Foundation, Mexico City), in which she wears a metal brace and her body is open to reveal a broken column in place of her spine. Her sorrow over her inability to bear children is revealed in paintings such as 'Henry Ford Hospital' (1932, Collection of Dolores Olmedo Foundation), in which objects that include a baby, a pelvic bone, and a machine hover around a hospital bed where she lies having a miscarriage."

Welcome back!

Connect with WETA

  • Facebook
  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest

Press Contacts