Frida Kahlo

"Viva La Vida"

“Let’s Meet The Master’s” Frida Kahlo – “Viva La Vida”

Frida Kahlo, this month’s artist, is a master in the sense that she mastered the art of living out her motto, “Viva La Vida,” which in English means, “Long Live Life”!

Frida was born on July 6th, 1907 in Coyoacan, Mexico. She was a very precocious child, and although her mother had little patience for her cheeky nature, Frida’s father found her intelligence and occasional impudance amusing and loved her best of his four daughters. He was a professional photographer and liked to paint countryside landscapes in his off time. Frida would accompany him on photo shoots and painting outings. Frida’s primary task during these outings was to care for him (and guard the equipment from thieves) when her father suffered an epileptic seizure, which happened frequently. At only five years old she handled emergencies with calmness and determination. At the age of six, Frieda contracted Polio, and as a result her right leg became much smaller and thinner than her left. Always a determined child, Frida attempted to strengthen her leg by participating in sports such as wrestling, boxing, soccer and swimming. But despite her efforts, her leg remained thin and fragile. Other children teased her and called her “Frida peg leg.” The unrelenting Frida refused to give up, and wore pants, long dresses, and even a unique shoe to help her walk without a limp.

Frida the Teen

Frida did exceptionally well in school, so her parents sent her to a very prestigious preparatory school in Mexico City. Although she was one of only 45 girls amongst 2000 boys at the school, Frida’s classmates did not see her as having a handicap; they saw her as a smart, funny and mischievous girl who could accomplish anything she set mind to. Frida set her mind on being a doctor.

An Artist Is Born

On September 17, 1925, Frida was on her way home from school when her bus was hit by a street car. A metal arm of the bus impaled Fida’s body and the doctors were not sure she would survive. Frida spent a lot of time alone in the hospital, and as she had overcome polio so many years before, she was determined to make the best of this set back. When she was released from the hospital a month later, this once active girl now had to lay perfectly still in a body cast for three months. Needing something to do, she asked her father for some paints. Her mother hired a carpenter to make a special easel so she could paint while lying on her back. They hung a large mirror on the ceiling above her so she could paint self-portraits.  Although she was eventually able to walk again, going back to school was out of the question due to the need for continued surgeries. But Frida was okay with that, because she found something that she loved to do. In the two years following her accident, Frida had painted 24 pictures.

Frieda, the Wife

Frieda married the famous painter Diego Rivera. As they traveled the world attending parties and art shows that showcased Diego’s art, Frida missed her own painting. Their tumultuous marriage was reflected in their living in two separate houses joined by a bridge, so that they might each have their own space but visit each other when they wanted to be together.

Success in New York

Frida’s first solo art exhibit was in October of 1938. Her paintings were so unusual for the time that one art critic, after seeing her painting entitled What Water Gave Me, labeled her a surrealist. (Surrealist painters don’t try to show things from the real world, they usually try to portray dreams or even nightmares.) Because her paintings were frequently strange and/or disturbing, it is easy to see why some considered her a surrealist; but Frida stated, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

The Louvre Museum

Frida’s success in New York spread to Paris, France. Seventeen of her paintings, as well as a number of her photographs and sculptures, were put on display at the prestigious Louvre Museum.  The Louvre actually bought one painting, entitled “The Frame”, and it was the first painting by a twentieth-century Mexican artist to be purchased by this world famous museum.


Her life, full circle

Unfortunately, her first solo exhibit in Mexico was also her last one. Frida continued to endure health issues related to the bus accident from so many years before, and her doctor said she was too sick to attend. But Frida wouldn’t hear of missing it! She was taken to the exhibit in an ambulance, and her bed was set up in the center of the gallery. Frida was a very strong-willed woman, but her body was getting weaker each day. On July 13th, 1954, Frida died in the very house she had been born in forty-seven years earlier. 

 Art gallery owner and author Michelle Gaugy once said, “An artist can only create from who they are. It is, after all, all they have. If they know tragedy, then that experience will undoubtedly affect their art.” One could argue that Frido Kalho’s struggles made her into an artist; for had she not suffered her first illness her life storyboard would have looked very different indeed.

Online Resources:

*At “Artsy Craftsy Mom” your little artist can create some wonderful Frida Kahlo inspired art! They can 10 different things such as: Shadow boxes, self portraits and decoupage earrings.

* Art Projects For Kids is a fantastic resource for your child to learn how to do so many things related to art! At the link provided you can print off a simple drawing guide to create a simple and yet wonderful portrait of Frida Kahlo herself!


*The Wayne County Library has access to many wonderful books about Frida Kahlo. Go see Ms. Debbie or any one of her many friendly clerks to borrow a book or two (or even three) books about Frida and her inspiring life!