Is Frida Kahlo a surrealist?
`Self-portrait for Dr. Eloesser': the painting typifies Frida's ambivalent view of nature with the flowers and the thorns
THOUGH FRIDA KAHLO is often classified as Surrealist, she often exhibited with them and Andre Breton, the founder of surrealism, wrote the catalogue for Frida's first exhibition, Frida resisted the classification. "They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my reality," she declared.
And what a reality it was! Her paintings expressed the pain of her crippling accident, the many operations (over thirty) the loss of her leg, the miscarriages and her tempestuous relationship with her muralist husband Diego Rivera.
Born Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderon in New Mexico on July 6, 1907, Frida never meant to be a painter. She wanted to become a doctor and attend pre-medical school. All changed on September 17, 1925 when she was involved in a horrific accident, which left her with a fractured pelvis, a dislocated shoulder and a badly fractured spine.
In hospital Frida woke up to find herself, "encased in a coffin like plaster cast with only her head exposed." That was when she started painting "for visitors and relatives who were willing to pose." No one gave Frida much of a chance of survival but they had not counted on her indomitable spirit.
Her relationship with Diego Rivera started with art as a common passion. On her first visit Frida told Diego, "I have not come to flirt, I have come to show you my paintings." The relationship survived a one-year divorce, countless infidelities and Frida's constant battle with pain.
Fifty-five of Frida's 143 paintings are self-portraits as she explains, "I paint self portraits because I am the person I know best." Frida died on July 13, 1954 (most probably suicide) but her legend lives on encapsulated in a final tribute, "Friend, sister of the people, great daughter of Mexico; you are still alive."
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