Frida Kahlo Mexican artist, lived most of her life and physical pain, yet she continued to paint until her death. Her artwork records her suffering and experiences as a woman. She was born to a Mexican mother and a German father.

The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas). Oil on canvas painted in 1939.
The Two Fridas (Las dos Fridas). Oil on canvas was painted in 1939.

As a designer, I love the work of Kahlo, as her self-portraits are loaded with symbolism. At the same time, I do not suggest that designers use their designs to work through the pain and suffering in life as Kahlo did. Kahlo’s work is beneficial to study for a designer as symbolism and metaphor are often critical devices used in visual communication.

“Frida Kahlo’s powerful autobiographical paintings explored the human psyche.”

Frida Kahlo
This painting was painted in 1945 when she was force-fed.

Kahlo, the wife of the muralist Diego Riviera, was, like her husband, considered a cult figure in Mexico. Feminists admire her for her openness and for recording her life as a woman.

Kahlo was born in 1910 and died in 1954. During that time, she produced a relatively small body of work – about 150 pictures. Many of these pictures are intensely powerful in a simple, straightforward way. She recorded the uniquely female experience of pregnancy, therapeutic abortion and miscarriage, disappointment in love and the physical pain that she had to endure.

Frida Kahlo Quote

Kahlo was seriously injured at age 15 in a bus accident in which one of her feet was broken, her spine fractured in several places, and her pelvis smashed by a metal bar that pierced her body. If that is not bad enough, polio left her with a limp before the age of 6.

In the 29 years following the accident, she was to undergo 30 operations and spend many years in a stormy marriage to Rivera.

Through it all, she could paint and teach for almost the last decade of her life. She had an easel rigged to straddle her bed and a mirror on a bedpost for some of the striking self-portraits that she did.

Much of her work had about it a surrealist quality. Art historians often considered her a Surrealist due to the psychological and existential issues she dealt with in her art. Although she asserted that she was not a surrealist because she recorded reality, not fantasy.

One such picture shows her lying naked on a blood-soaked bed in Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, set in a barren landscape with only factories rising in the distance. She was alone and defenceless. The picture records an abortion, the lost fetus rising in the middle of the picture attached to a blood vessel. Also similarly attached are an orchid, a snail, a model of a spinal cord, a pelvis and a factory machine.

Frida Kahlo
In this painting, Frida depicts herself lying on a bed naked with blood and haemorrhaging in Henry Ford Hospital.

“See me. Look at me. Listen to me. I exist.”

Kahlo painted in vibrant, bright colours, rarely using black. The Mexican culture influenced her work with its Indian mystique and obsession with death.

However, she was not a naive or primitive painter, even though her painting shows this influence. Such contemporary figures also influenced Rousseau and Gauguin, who painted lush jungle scenes.

Portrait of Diego Rivera and Frida (Kahlo) Rivera
Portrait of Diego Rivera and Frida (Kahlo) Rivera

Her paintings were not beautiful in the ordinary sense. Kahlo was striking and somewhat masculine in appearance. Her self-portraits are honest in depicting not the idealised person but the person she was.

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