To be able to understand Kahlo’s artwork, it is helpful have some knowledge about her personal life. She did not paint these images because she had a morbid mind thought, but it was due to traumatic experiences. Many famous painters, such as Rembrandt and Van Gogh, drew beautiful landscapes, peaceful scenes, and loving people in them. Many of Van Gogh’s paintings have been widely reproduced since viewers can escape within these sweet images. Any random person would not see many of Kahlo’s work on a cafe all or even be able to recognize what she created since her work contained very visual items.
From the beginning of her childhood, Kahlo was familiar with pain and suffering. Kahlo was brought up by parents’ who seemed to have a “cold and loveless” marriage (Beck 1). She witnessed how a marriage could be depressing and emotionally unattached. Her father suffered from epilepsy, and he experienced bouts of depression. These illnesses made Kahlo’s father seclude himself from his family and others; however, Kahlo watched over him to protect him from his epileptic seizures (Beck 2).
Not only did Kahlo observe an unhappy marriage, she was born with a disease called Spina bifida. In the Health Newsflash Web site, Spina bifida (SB) is a neural tube defect (a disorder involving incomplete development of the brain, spinal cord, and/or their protective coverings) caused by the failure of the fetus’s spine to close properly during the first month of pregnancy. Nerve damage is almost always eminent, and as we have seen from Kahlo’s life these people have problems with mobility (Health 1). Kahlo’s parents knew she had this disease, but they did not tell their daughter.
To add to all the madness, she contracted polio when she was seven years old (Diary 288). This disease crippled her and left one of her legs permanently underdeveloped and weak. For such a young and innocent girl, Kahlo experienced more pain than any child should. Another source states Kahlo suffered a contusion, and this is how she contracted polio (Billeter 244). There is no doubt that Kahlo’s personal paintings portrayed suffering, and it was the main theme she often painted about. Her art is nearly a replica of her life, which seems to progress in an order of time.
It mainly begins on September 17, 1925, when Kahlo and boyfriend Alejandro Gomez Arias were in a near fatal bus accident (Diary 288). Kahlo is impaled through her pelvis; she receives broken spinal vertebras and other internal injuries to her reproductive organs (Billeter 244). From this point on, Kahlo’s life completely changes. She wanted to study medicine, but her life looks as if it is about to come to an end. However, Kahlo survives the bus accident and becomes confined to her bed for months afterward. Her pain and suffering truly began at this moment, and art is finally put onto paper.
Kahlo first expresses pictures of herself and her sister Christina since she is by Kahlo most of the time. She drew the scene of the accident, but she never painted it. It is a rough sketch showing the markings she might have erased. A streetcar is drawn as hitting the bus from the side. There are squiggle lines on the ground as people lying in pain, suffering. One person is drawn to stand out because it is drawn well. One can clearly see it is a person kneeling down looking upon the person lying underneath them.
Kahlo drew a woman on a stretcher or bed in a body cast. She has lines signifying the cast all over her chest, stomach, and shoulders. On her right leg, beneath the knee, are lines also showing a cast or being wounded (Billeter 75). Kahlo wrote to Gomez Arias, “Last Friday a cast was put on and since then it has been real torture… I feel suffocated. There is a dreadful pain in my lungs and all over my back… I cannot walk, and I sleep badly” (245). This is one of the few times Kahlo openly expresses the pain and details a side of weakness.
Death and pain are apparent in this quick sketch, and they get more shocking and louder as the years go on and more pain occurs. Kahlo’s pain and resentment towards unable in carrying and having a child is likely to be the worst traumatic experiences in her life. Her prior physical pain does not seem as personally effective to her psyche as the inability to bare children. In a time when motherhood was expected and valued, Kahlo describes herself as being unable to have children thus considering herself as being “useless” (246). Kahlo marries Diego Rivera on August 21, 1929.
He was a major influence and supporter of Kahlo; “… they were paintings which acknowledged the special capacity of the woman to look truth in the face and, even with an eye on cruel reality, to endure suffering” (10). Kahlo becomes the third wife of Rivera, and as the others he asks Kahlo to wear traditional Mexican dress. We can see that she accepts, and Kahlo becomes the Mexican icon. A year later Kahlo has to have an abortion since her uterus and organs were damaged from the bus accident, and the internal pain and suffering rises in her.
The art turns from painting portraits of just people to deeper and more detailed pictures. In 1931, the portrait of Luther Burbank displays a sense of death. The roots growing into the skeleton of a body makes a person question why there are trees growing fruit above it. It puts the two polar opposites, life and death, together in one piece. An observer can gradually notice an incline of sadness and depression among Kahlo’s art. All the inner pain and grief of this woman is being shown to everyone making her work appreciative in a very feminine manner (99).
Transforming into an expressive outgoing artist, Kahlo puts so many words and feelings into pictures. Traveling to the United States could have fueled motives for the paintings made in 1932. On the border of Mexico and the United States painting shows the two neighboring nations being completely different. Mexico’s side is very primitives looking with the Aztec statues and temples. The United States has the tall buildings, factories, and technology compared to the nature heritage side of Mexico. In all this, Kahlo is standing tall and strong in-between these two countries (101).
Kahlo is given another chance of creating life by becoming pregnant again in 1932, but she is denied and suffers from a miscarriage. A major piece of art is created, The Miscarriage. This picture is very graphic and anyone who sees it automatically understands what Kahlo went through. Piling upon the anguish, Kahlo has to endure another loss two years later, and she discovers Rivera is having an affair with her sister Christina (Diary 289). The next shocking picture relieving her suffrage was A Few Small Nips in 1935. A man resembling Rivera is cutting away at Kahlo’s naked body.
Blood and red signifying the pain felt by Kahlo is all over the picture (Billeter 115). This is exactly the reason how Kahlo’s artwork is seen describing the pain she experienced throughout her lifetime. She began a new style of feminine expression, and became an icon for women and Mexico. No normal person would wish pain or suffering upon another soul. However, if Kahlo did not experience these horrific feelings, the world would not know who is Frida Kahlo. Nor pain of sorrow could stop Kahlo, but death was the only way thing that would stop her from painting.