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Celebrating Frida Kahlo

“The only thing I know is that I paint because I need to, and I paint whatever passes through my head without any other consideration.”

 

Considered one of Mexico’s greatest artists and remembered as a feminist icon, Frida Kahlo is known for her self-portraits and work inspired by her home country. 

 

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, we’re looking at her extraordinary life.

 

 

 

EARLY LIFE 

 

“I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best". 

 

 

Frida Kahlo was born in Mexico in 1907. 

 

As a child, Kahlo planned to study medicine, but a bad bus accident, when she was eighteen, changed the course of her life. Stuck in bed, she began to paint, something she enjoyed as a child. A mirror positioned on the ceiling above her bed allowed her to paint herself, setting her on a new path as she discovered her distinctive style. 

 

Kahlo’s self-portraits defined her career. Using self-portraits to express both her public and private self, she was able to filter her passions and beliefs into her work. Kahlo embraced her Mexican heritage and was heavily inspired by Mexican folklore. Through this, she was able to explore bigger and bolder ideas, using metaphors and symbols to represent these concepts. Roots are a common theme through her work, signifying her history and culture, and also her own growth. 

 

SURREALISM 

 

“They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

 

 

 

In 1928, Kahlo met fellow Mexican artist Diego Rivera. The couple married in 1929 and travelled through Mexico and the USA. During this time, Kahlo continued to develop her style. But it was meeting Andre Breton, the father of Surrealism, that changed Kahlo’s career and she exhibited at her first solo exhibition in New York in 1938, where she caused a sensation with her traditional Mexican dress. 

 

This was what Kahlo did best. She broke social conventions and didn’t mind whether she fitted in. In her life and in her work, she embraced colour and refused to alter her appearance, emphasising more masculine features in her paintings, such as her distinctive monobrow. 

 

Following the New York exhibition, Kahlo travelled to Paris where she met other Surrealist artists, such as Picasso. Kahlo became the first Mexican artist in the Louve collection after they purchased her painting The Frame. Kahlo however, did not consider herself a Surrealist and later distanced herself from the movement. 

 

LEGACY 

 

"I paint flowers so they will not die."

 

 

Kahlo died in 1954, after many years of ill health. Contracting polio as a child and the bus accident as a teenager left her with lifelong health problems. In life, Kahlo was overshadowed by her artist husband, and it was only after her death that her reputation began to grow. 

 

By the 1980s, Kahlo’s work had been embraced by political groups, the feminist movement and the LGBTQ movement. Kahlo’s refusal to be silenced and her openness about her struggles with miscarriages and identity inspired a new generation, who elevated her status as an icon. 

 

Kahlo dominated physical spaces with her personal style and embraced both the feminine and masculine parts of her identity. Kahlo was proud of her body and who she was, and she showed this in her paintings, not flinching away from reality.

 

Kahlo’s home, La Casa Azul, is now a museum and remains in nearly exactly the same condition as it was when Kahlo lived there. Kahlo was the first Hispanic woman to be featured on a US stamp and her life and work have inspired many works of fiction and art. Frida Kahlo is now one of the most recognisable artists in the world. Her legacy continues to grow as new generations discover her incredible story and powerful work. Kahlo dared to dream and lived a life of colour and passion that will never be forgotten. 

 

“Feet, what do I need you for when I have wings to fly?”