Monday, February 6, 2012

Kahlo, Frida

Self Portrait with Monkeys
oil on canvas
81.5 x 63 cm
Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection of Modern and Contemporary Mexican Art

"I paint myself because I'm so often alone and because I am the subject I know best"
Frida Kahlo de Rivera (1907 – 1954) 's life began and ended in Mexico City, in her home known as the Blue House. The iconic Mexican painter's biography is riddled with sadness. At the age of six, she developed polio, leaving her right leg thinner than the left, which she disguised by wearing long, colorful skirts. Following a traffic accident in her teenage years, Kahlo went on to suffer further health problems until her death in 1954. She also had a volatile marriage with acclaimed Mexican artist Diego Rivera.

Kahlo's traffic accident was life changing. She suffered a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, broken ribs, a broken pelvis, eleven fractures in her right leg, a crushed and dislocated right foot, a dislocated shoulder and other complications which affected her reproductive ability. She had several miscarriages and suffered periods of depression. During three months recovering in a full body cast, Kahlo neglected the study of medicine... she studied the natural sciences, with the eventual aim of becoming a medical doctor... and began to paint, encouraged by her mother. She later stated, "I was born a bitch. I was born a painter".

Kahlo channeled her energy and emotion into her artworks and her many pets – spider monkeys, Aztecs dogs, Amazon parrots, hens, sparrows and a fawn – which lived at her home. In Mexican mythology, monkeys are symbols of lust, but Kahlo portrayed them as tender and protective symbols. The spider monkey species is recognized by disproportionately long limbs and long prehensile tail and are normally found in the tropical forests of Central and South America. Kahlo’s decision to include so many animals in her self portraits reveals how close she felt to the animal world ... she expressed her alliance with the monkeys through their hands across her body, through ribbons uniting them both, or, in this case, through the monkey’s tail wound round her arm.

During the 1950s, Kahlo's health deteriorated steadily. She went through a series of operations on her spine, all to no avail. Eventually, she was confined to a wheel chair, then permanently consigned to bed. She was forced to take painkillers almost constantly, and the technical execution of her work deteriorated visibly.

In the summer of 1954, Kahlo contracted pneumonia and died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47, in the Blue House, the place where she had been born. A few days before her death she wrote in her diary, "I hope the exit is joyful ... and I hope never to return ... Frida". In accordance with Kahlo's wishes, her body was cremated. The urn was placed in the Blue House, which was converted into a gallery of her work.