Frida Kahlo - Love, Art & Inspiration
Who’s Frida Khalo?
Frida Kahlo was a Mexican artist who lived passionately and unapologetically with disabilities.
She lived with chronic back pain and a crippled leg – the result of a motorized vehicle accident she endured in her teens.
Still, she lived an accomplished life.
Frida Kahlo - A Short History
Her full name was Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderon.
She was born in the Blue House in Coyoacan, Mexico, on July 6th, 1907.
As a result of her condition, she was often prescribed bed rest and suffered through prolonged periods of isolation in her bedroom.
It was here that she painted many of her masterful works of art with the support of her family and her beloved Diego Rivera.
Frida married the love of her life, Diego Rivera, on August 21, 1929, when she was only 22 years old.
He was 20 years her senior and almost twice her size. (He weighed around 300lbs, whereas she was about 98lbs) (worldhistoryproject.org)
She died the night of July 2nd, 1954, at the age of 47 in the Blue House.
The cause of death, according to her death certificate, was pulmonary thrombosis.
Frida Kahlo & Me (VIDEO)
I first discovered Frida’s work after watching the 2002 movie Frida with Salma Hayek.
(I highly recommend it, by the way. It’s cinematic, thoughtful, beautiful, and provocative.)
Because of my love for this movie, I was inspired to look closer at Frida’s work.
Initially, before watching the movie, I was put off by many of her paintings as I found them overwhelming in their imagery and sadness.
But the more I studied her life, the more I fell in love with her work.
I love its vulnerability.
And I love that she didn’t shy away from evoking emotion – her internal struggles and outlining her family’s history.
As an artist, I have found great joy in studying Frida’s work.
Doing so has awoken in me a need to create pieces that resonate and inspire others similarly to what she’s done for me.
What To Expect From This Post - Who's Frida Kahlo?
In this post, I’ll cover exciting facts and highlights of Frida’s life as well as how she’s inspired my design process as I create a Frida-inspired jewelry collection.
Frida Kahlo's Childhood & Creating A Frida-Inspired Jewelry Collection (VIDEO)
“Not fragile like a flower. Fragile like a bomb.”
When's Frida Kahlo's Birthday?
Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo Calderon was born in the Blue House in Coyocan, Mexico, on July 6th, 1910 - so she claimed.
Raquel Tibol, a renowned Mexican art critic and art historian, met and interviewed Frida Kahlo the year before Frida Kahlo’s death.
From this incredible opportunity, Tibol wrote a fantastic book, which Elinor Randall translated, Frida Kahlo: An Open Life.
Here she writes:
“…because of the arrival in Mexico in 1981 of two television professionals from the Federal Republic of Germany: the librettist Gislind Nabakowsky and the cameraman Peter Nicolay, who were making a half-hour film to be shown in the West German television. Wanting this film to show something new, I asked the writer Marco Antonio Campos to accompany the German filmmakers, along with Marco Antonio’s godmother, Isabel Campos, Frida’s intimate friend and also godmother to the not-yet-born Leonardo; she and Frida had gone to primary school together in Coyoacan, and they had a permanent and very confidential relationship. In the course of the interview, Isabel Campos told the Germans that the date of 1910 was incorrect, because Frida was a year younger than she, and she was born in 1906. It was enough to consult Frida’s birth certificate to prove that Isabel was right.”
So why did Frida change her birthday?
To feel younger & prettier? Not at all.
Passionate & unapologetic, it’s speculated that she did so to align herself with the ideas of liberation and reform that encompassed the Mexican Revolution, which began in 1910.
Who's Frida Kahlo's Father?
Carl Wilhelm Kahlo - A.K.A. Guillermo Kahlo
Carl Wilhelm Kahlo was born on October 26th, 1871, in Germany.
Youthful enthusiasm inspired Carl Kahlo to move to Mexico in 1891 at the age of 19 with little more than the clothes he wore.
Initially, he worked as an accountant.
Within a short timeframe, he secured enough financial and social security to change his first name to “Guillermo.”
By 1894, he married his first wife, a Mexican woman who died while giving birth to her second daughter.
On the evening of her death, he met his second wife, Frida’s mother, Matilde Calderon, a devout & pious Catholic.
Per Matilde’s request, Guillermo Kahlo sent his two daughters from his first marriage to a convent and also switched his occupation to that of a photographer. The same occupation as Matilde’s father.
In his career as a photographer, Rainer Huhle wrote an informative article titled More than Frida’s Father. Guillermo Kahlo was a pioneer of industrial and architectural photography in Mexico.
In that article, he explains how Guillermo flourished as a photographer.
As an immigrant, Guillermo viewed his surroundings from a different perspective and captured photos with a fresh point of view.
Guillermo Kahlo quickly proved to have an eye for masterful composition of architectural and interior photographs and quickly became one of the most sought-after photographers in modern Mexico.
He used a large-format camera, which he could only carry through the city and county aided by an assistant – usually Frida.
He used this camera to capture carefully composed scenes in long exposure shots, resulting in great depth of field.
In 1904, the government commissioned him to photograph all of the essential national monuments to mark the centenary of Mexican Independence in 1910.
Unfortunately for Guillermo Kahlo, Porfirio Diaz, the dictatorial President of Mexico who commissioned his work, was forced to resign in 1911.
Porfirio’s resignation put Guillermo and his family under a financial strain, but still managed.
In Guillermo’s last years, Diego Rivera would be of great assistance to him and his family as they continued to live in the Blue House.
Frida Kahlo's Childhood & Bout With Polio
Of all of Guillermo Kahlo’s daughters – he had a total of 6, 2 from his first marriage and 4 with Frida’s mother, Matilde – Frida was his favorite.
She was a lively, cheeky child.
Of her, he would say, “Frida is my most intelligent daughter… She’s most like me.” (Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera by Isabel Alantara & Sandra Egnolff, page 9)
Sadly, Frida contracted polio at six years old, which led her to be bedridden for nine months in excruciating pain.
This was her first period in isolation due to medical reasons.
Polio is a disabling & life-threatening disease caused by the poliovirus.
It spreads from person to person and can infect a person’s spinal cord, causing paralysis.
It was the poliovirus that left Frida’s right leg deformed.
Of this period of isolation, she recounts:
“I must have been about six years old when I started vividly picturing to myself a friendship with another girl of about my own age. I used to blow on the window of my room, which gave onto Allende Street, and draw a door on the pane. I imagined that I then ran, full of excited anticipation, out through this “door”, and crossed the vast “plain” which I saw in my mind’s eye stretching out before me until I reached the “Pinzon” (Finch) dairy. There I slipped through the “o” in Pizon and immediately plunged into the bowels of the earth, where the playmate of my dreams awaited me. I no longer remember her form and colouring but I do know that she was a lot of fun and laughed a great deal, soundlessly, of course. She was very nimble and could dance (…) When I returned to my window from my imaginary excursion, I came back through the “door”; then I rubbed it out quickly with my fingers to make it disappear…”
Frida Kahlo's Prep School Years & Meeting Diego Rivera (VIDEO)
Frida At The National Preparatory School (1922-1924)
Frida entered The National Preparatory School, which was more of a college than a secondary school, in 1922 when she was 14 years old.
While a tomboy at heart, she loved to play dress-up.
While the school didn’t have a uniform, she wore a German high school student’s uniform consisting of a dark-blue pleated gabardine skirt, thick stockings, boots, and a broad-brimmed black straw hat with ribbons down the back.
She wore her thick black hair with bangs cut straight across her forehead – in the typical flapper fashion of the time.
At other times she opted for wearing men’s clothing which provoked the conservative mothers of her classmates to exclaim: “Que nina tan fea!” (What an ugly little girl!)
Her friends, on the other hand, found her fascinating.
As in most schools, The National Preparatory School conjured a number of cliques.
Frida intermingled among the three of them.
- The Contemporaneos, a literary group
- The Maistros
- The Cachuchas – named after the caps they all wore and famous for their brains and mischief. They weren’t politically involved, yet they adopted a kind of romantic socialism mixed with nationalism.
Of the three, she most connected with The Cachuchas.
A member of the group recounts, “it was a joking attitude we had toward people and things that drew Frida to us, not because she had the habit of laughing at other people but because it captivated her, and she began to learn it and ended by becoming a master of the pun.”
The Cachuchas antics were both impressive and, at times, torturous.
In one instance, they rode a donkey through the halls, which caused classrooms to empty.
In another, they lit a web of fireworks around a dog and sent him running through the hallways.
While incredibly witty and intelligent, Frida was not the best student.
She earned good grades without putting forth much effort and often skipped class, given that she didn’t want to sit through the lectures of ill-prepared or boring teachers.
Occasionally, she would go as far as petitioning the director to remove teachers she saw as unfit.
“He is not a teacher,” she would say. “He doesn’t know what he’s talking about since the text contradicts what he says, and when we ask him questions, he is not capable of answering them. Let’s eliminate him and renew the professorship.”
Once the painters commissioned by Vasconcelos (the minister of education) began to work, they, too, found themselves at the mercy of The Cachuchas’s antics.
Upon erecting their scaffolds, the mischievous students would light the wood shavings left behind by the scaffolds on fire, resulting in significant damage to the painter’s work.
In response, some opted to wear huge pistols as a deterrent.
Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera First Meet (1922)
Frida first met Diego Rivera because of this project in 1922.
He was 36, and she was just 14.
While striking and memorable, Diego never imagined that this young woman who’d sneak into the amphitheater to taunt him by calling him names and stealing his lunch would one day become his wife.
Frida recalled that although she taunted him with cheeky names such as panzon (fatso), in her mind, she’d think, “you’ll see, panzon; now you don’t pay attention to me, but one day I’ll have a child by you.”
Alejandro "Alex" Gomez Arias - Frida's First Love
Before Diego Rivera, there was Alejandro Gomez Arias – the leader of the Cachuchas with whom Frida fell in love in the summer of 1923.
Alejandro “Alex” Gomez Arias was a handsome & charismatic orator and an excellent athlete.
He was a dedicated scholar who despised vulgarity, stupidity, and the misuse of power and loved knowledge, justice, and irony.
Alex and Frida held a secret courtship as Frida’s parents disapproved of their relationship.
To sustain secrecy, Frida would create excuses for getting home late from school and would stay up late writing letters to Alex so they’d go unnoticed by her mother.
If Frida fell ill or couldn’t deliver her letters, Cristina, her sister, would reluctantly serve as a messenger.
December 19, 1923
…I am upset because they punished me because of that idiot escuincla Cristina because I gave her a blow (because she took some of my things) – and she began to shriek for about half an hour and later they gave me a good thrashing, and they didn’t let me go to yesterday’s posada and they hardly let me go out in the street so that I can’t write you a very long letter but I write you like this so that you will see that I always remember you even if I am sadder than anything since you can image, without seeing you, punished and the whole day without doing anything because I have a terrible temper. This afternoon I asked my mother if I could go to the plaza to buy some lace and I came to the post office so I could write…
Receive many kisses from your chamaca who misses you a lot. Say hello to Carmen James and Chong Lee (please).
Given the political hostility and riots that began on November 30th, 1923 – due to a rebellion against then-President Obregon, Frida & Alex were forced to separate between December 1923 and January 1924.
December 16, 1923
Alex: I am very sorry that yesterday at four I didn’t go to the University but my mother would not let me go to Mexico because they told her there was a bola [uprising]…
January 12, 1924
My Alex:…The thing of school registration is very green [bad] since a boy told me that it begins on the 15th of this month, and then there was a mess and my mother says that I am not going to register until things are well settled in town [Coyoacan]. What do you know about the revolt? Tell me something so that I am more or less informed about how things are going, since here, I am becoming more and more dumb…I put it to you chiquito [little one] because it shames me. You will tell me to read the newspapers, but the trouble is that I am too lazy to read the newspapers and I start reading other things…
By March of 1924, Vasconcelos resigned as minister of education in a protest against the election of Plutarco Elias Calles as president of Mexico.
While The Cachuchas disdained politics, they supported Vasconcelos and may have participated in demonstrations supporting him.
As time progressed, Frida’s affection for Alex intensified, and her letters to him became more vulnerable.
Thursday, December 25, 1924
My Alex: Since I saw you I have loved you. What do you say? (?) Because it will probably be a few days before we see each other, I am going to beg you not to forget your pretty little woman eh?…sometimes at night I am very afraid and I would like you to be with me so that I should be less frightened so that you can tell me that you love me as much as before; as much as last December, even if I am an “easy thing” right Alex? You must keep on liking easy things. …I would like to be even easier, a little tiny thing that you could just carry in your pocket always always…Alex, write to me soon and even if it’s not true, tell me that you love me very much and that you can’t live without me…
Your chamaca, escuincla or woman or whatever you want [Here Frida drew 2 little figures showing these different types of females.]
Summer of 1925 - Job Hunting
Frida held many jobs in her adolescence, although work was hard to find.
While she hoped to one day be able to afford her dreams of traveling abroad, her earnings were mostly used to contribute to her family’s income.
In the summer of 1925, Frida studied shorthand and typing at Oliver Academy with the hope of securing employment at the Ministry of Education library.
Frida wrote, “They pay 4 to 4.50, and to me, that doesn’t seem bad at all, but the first thing I need is to know something about typing and charm. So just imagine how backward your pal is!..”
Of this period, Alejandro Gomez Arias reported that a female employee of the Ministry of Education library seduced Frida…
In 1938, Frida would recount that her initiation into homosexual sex was by one of her “schoolteachers.”
For her, it was a traumatic experience, given that it became quite public and scandalous once her parents found out.
August 1, 1925
…I am full of the most terrible sadness….but you know that not everything is as one would want it to be and what’s the point of talking about it…
At the end of the letter, she drew a crying face.
During this same time frame, she found work in a factory as well as a paid apprenticeship with her father’s friend – Fernando Fernandez, a successful commercial printer.
He taught Frida to draw by having her copy prints by Swedish Impressionist Andres Zorn and soon discovered that Frida had “enormous talent.”
Alejandro Gomez Arias reported that Frida had a brief affair with Fernando Fernandez, which would prove to be a great hurdle for their relationship.
February 1926 - Guillermo Kahlo's Family Photoshoot
By 18, Frida was an insightful, strong-willed woman who’d experienced life on her terms and endured various traumatic events.
Guillermo Kahlo held a photoshoot for his family on February 7th, 1926, where Frida showcases her signature pose – a compelling gaze straight into the camera.
In the first portrait, she poses in a satin dress – which was not at all in fashion. Here, she carefully hides her thin right leg with her left while looking straight ahead.
Later, she poses in menswear for the family portrait.
Everyone else is appropriately dressed for the times, but Frida confidently stands out with stunning boldness and beauty.
It’s unclear whether her fashion choices were made with mischief or appreciation for defiant fashion trends.
Regardless, these portraits showcase the lively personality of a woman who would win the world over with her strength, charisma, and talent.
"Art begets art. Art begets art. Art begets art."
In my quest to answer the question – Who’s Frida Kahlo? – I have sifted through her childhood history; I have taken a close look at her father’s influence on her, and journeyed into her adolescence.
In the future, I will dive deeper into her work, her relationship with Diego, her travels, and more.
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