Book Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo - Hayden Herrera

Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo - Hayden Herrera

Discover who Frida Kahlo was and the details of the life of the most famous Mexican painter, an artist who fought against all odds and turned them into art.

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Talent? Luck? Fate? Or rather, connections? How did a woman within the artistic field become so famous that she went beyond the recognition of her works to become a milestone in subsequent generations?

In this summary, we will see the story of the woman who broke all the norms and ties of her time, and learn where the contrast of extremes brushed her entire existence and why she stood out among the others.

From light to dark, from happiness to despair, from love to hate, and, strikingly, from traditional to revolutionary. All, without any exception, contemplate every aspect of Frida Kahlo’s life.

Do you want to know more about this great personality? Come along with us on this journey through the tormented but brilliant biography.

The book “Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo”

Having several releases dating back to 1983, the book has in its most current version – from 2018 – 528 pages distributed in 6 parts. These pages are filled with texts written either by Frida or by the people who corresponded with her during her life.

During the entire course, the chronological sequence of the paintings and images of them are presented at the end of the book, also bringing images of her childhood, her marriage, and her death.

Thus showing, from her beginning to her end, her achievements and qualities, her influence both in her time and nowadays. The work was eventually brought to the cinema screen in 2002 by actress Salma Hayek.

Who is Hayden Herrera?

Hayden Herrera is an American historian, curator, and professor of art history. With a specialization in Latin American art, Herrera wrote “Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo”, now her best-known book, but also other biographies, one of them entitled “Arshile Gorky: His Life and Work”.

Why should I read “Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo”?

Here we find yet another story of inspiration and overcoming, a life guided by explosive emotions, which were able to deeply touch thousands of other people precisely because of these feelings.

So, whether you are a fan of the painter or intrigued by everything she represents, in this book we will not only discover the challenges that life imposed on Kahlo, but how great personalities are people, like all of us, living one day at a time.

What are the main points covered in the book “Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo”?

  • The story of Frida Kahlo’s life, from her childhood until her death;
  • The relationships she had during her life, from friendships to marital and extramarital relationships;
  • Frida’s works and paintings, as well as their meaning and what they represented;
  • Kahlo’s profound impact on the lives of everyone around her.

Who was Frida Kahlo?

Her story begins and ends in a small town called Coyoacán. Born on July 6, 1907, Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón was the third child of Guillermo and Matilde Kahlo.

From an early age she had a quiet and exuberant personality, but soon her first obstacle came: poliomyelitis – which made her introspective and made her spend part of her childhood bedridden. However, her recovery made her more determined, and she was encouraged to play sports that were considered masculine at the time.

Three years after her birth, the Mexican Revolution broke out; this fact is important, because it was a time of movements and encouragement to freedom that influenced her pre-adolescence. More specifically, when she entered the National Preparatory School which, in 1920, was extremely prestigious.

Within this context, she had her first group of friends, the Cachuchas. Famous for their extreme intelligence but also for the great disturbance they caused by ignoring the strict regulations of the school.

It was also during this time that Frida met Diego Rivera, who at the time was still married to Guadalupe Marín. Their troubled relationship is notoriously famous, but for those still unaware, this would be the artist’s future husband.

Over time her personality became more captivating, she was an intense and unforgettable soul wherever she went, and much loved even though she was extremely impulsive. However, once again she was a victim of fate, a bus accident left sequelae in her spine that would last until her death.

This time, however, her personality revived and became more evident after her marriage to Diego. Although they had big arguments caused by mutual betrayals, there was a deep respect and adoration for each other.

Frida used all the frustrated and resentful feelings of the relationship and her physical state, transforming them into forms and colors. But while her paintings were intense and sometimes macabre, there were subtleties and an intriguing mystery – she painted her way of seeing these feelings, different from Diego’s traditionalism.

However, it was not only her paintings that made her acclaimed, something very peculiar is that it was her captivating personality that was responsible for this. No matter where or with whom, she made a very strong and unwavering impression, bringing warmth even if she was not on her best days.

This is the power that goes beyond physical ability or intelligence, but rather that of connecting with people in a unique way, which remained until her death in 1954.

Who was Diego Rivera?

While continuing her story, it is essential to talk about Diego Rivera, one of the greatest muralists of the time and both nationally and internationally acclaimed. But here we will not deal with the details of his life, but rather how he affected Frida’s life.

They met when he was still married, but this did not stop the girl from making an impression on the artist. However, it was not until years after Kahlo had already become involved with others, and subsequently, joined the communist cause that she became intimately acquainted with Riviera.

It was not long before they fell in love and married, the ceremony took place on August 21, 1929. Contrary to what they thought at first, she did not paint, she helped her husband with his exhausting routine and took care of the house.

In some way, she did what she could to please him, as in choosing to dress as a tehuana and adopting even more “mexicanidad”, “mexicanity”. Over time, this eventually became part of her caricature and of course began to constitute her individuality.

Her previously neglected painting returned when they moved to the US, being the time she was most dedicated to painting until then and was sharpened when Diego began having several affairs, ranging from actresses, models to Kahlo’s own sister, Cristina Kahlo y Calderón.

She lived extremely distressed by this fact, but also learned to cultivate another perspective of herself, where her love affairs filled her need for affection and eventually shaped her more confident side.

She had several male lovers whom she hid – including the Ukrainian Trotsky – but also several women whom she publicly announced. In part, between the couple there was a love of care and friendship where mutual dependence reigned, she needed Diego’s attention, and he needed Kahlo’s care.

This later resulted in a separation of them, but nothing lasts forever and that goes, in this case, for the separation of these two. So on December 8, 1930, she announced her second marriage to Riviera, it is worth noting that this time she imposed rules and was no longer the woman she was before.

When looking at their relationship, this is a very controversial part of her life, and there are two sides to it, where at the same time she was a revolutionary, she was stuck in a dysfunctional love.

This is up to each person to judge, the fact is that she had her intensity in the way she lived, and this overflowed into all aspects of her life.

What are Frida’s achievements in the art world?

Kahlo’s representativeness in Latin manners and cultures was extremely remarkable and important for society. But everyone has a beginning and hers was longer than many artists who start out as prodigies in painting.

Her first influence was her father, who began to share with her his interest in Mexican arts and showed her how to use a camera, this affected her own portrait art in the future. The difference was in the way she saw the images in her head, not at all conventional, shall we say.

At a young age she met Fernando Fernández who taught her how to draw, and eventually when she suffered the bus accident that completely fractured her, painting became an escape, a form of battle for life. She reinvents herself with each painting, as in “The Broken Column” painted in 1944.

Briefly her paintings were influenced by Diego, as she admired him, but this was only in the beginning. She had her own method of painting, even called primitive and even referenced, in the work, as a child filling a coloring book.

She also began to take her painting more seriously, creating a discipline that was honing her technical painting skills. In the years 1937 and 1938 she produced the largest amount of painting since she was 8 years married.

But her highlight came in April 1938, when the surrealist painter André Breton saw her work. He offered to organize an exhibition in Paris, which was materialized and there she had the opportunity to deepen further into the surrealist spirit of the city, materializing and influencing her art.

Her achievements did not stop there, later in 1946 she was selected as one of six artists to receive a government grant, and in the middle of this same year at the National Exhibition at the Palace of Fine Arts, where she won prizes in pesos.

However, she had a very specific style, which always portrayed her feelings, so Frida had a hard time satisfying her clients. After all, her pieces were often filled with melancholy and sadness, this fact led her to become a teacher in her search for a more fixed income.

As an art teacher, she gave her students freedom and guided them through the theory of painting as well as renowned painters. Her students later made mural paintings that were a great success. These students became proudly known as los Fridos.

Among some of Frida’s works these are some of the most remarkable and well-known:

  • My birth;
  • A Few Small Nips;
  • The two Fridas;
  • Wedding portrait;
  • Henry Ford Hospital;
  • Without Hope;
  • The Tree of Hope, Remain Strong;
  • Roots;
  • Self portraits.

What is Frida Kahlo’s legacy?

Female and cultural representation

By showing herself to be outside the behavioral and aesthetic female standards of the time, Frida opened opportunities and representation for local women and eventually those from all over the world.

Her explosive and outgoing behavior with a masculine “touch” contrasted with the local conservatism, and she practiced all kinds of sports that women previously did not dare to try.

She brought feeling and passion in her paintings that became internationally known, opening up recognition for women in the market, but mainly her dissemination of Latin culture initiated a greater respect for the local culture.

Freedom to love

With controversies in her relationship, Kahlo was known for establishing extramarital relationships not only with men, but women as well. Whether out of addiction or to quell the bitterness of her husband’s betrayal, she reinvented the wheel.

She was no longer “the betrayed one”, but the captivating woman capable of unleashing all her feelings without thinking about the consequences. She loved when and whom she wanted, suffered when and for whom she wanted, and this was the hardest, most judgmental, and transforming decision of her trajectory, to be who she was.

Fight against difficulties

Her journey brought her a lot of emotional and physical difficulties as well, but the latter was the one that most interfered in her life. The serious accident she suffered at a young age forced her to go through numerous surgeries and months of bed rest.

Pain medication was needed, especially as she neared death, and posture vests were an almost daily reality for her. She constantly fought her pain and anguish, her healing method being through painting.

When July 13, 1954, arrived, Frida died after complications from one of her many surgeries.

Her last moments were gray and compiled of pains, some speculate that her death would have been suicide, however her closest loved ones rule out this option and believe in the medical report of a pulmonary embolism.

Tributes were paid to her before and after her death, many people attended before the thousands she touched, directly or indirectly. Until today, she stands as a symbol of perseverance, strength and authenticity and will forever be remembered as such.

Other inspiring and remarkable biographies

In the book “The Girl From Aleppo”, written by Nujeen Mustafa together with Christina Lamb, is told the story of a refugee from Syria who not only had to endure hardships in her crossings, but had to do it all while being a wheelchair user.

Another extremely impactful biography is “I am Malala”, you can learn about the journey of the woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014, told by Malala Yousafzai herself.

To conclude, we have “My Brief Story” by Stephen Hawking, which brings the reality of Stephen’s secrets and teachings about willpower and achievement in the face of life’s improbabilities.

How to use the teachings left by Frida’s trajectory, in practice?

While we can draw great inspiration from the artist, much can also be learned from what to protect oneself from. That is why this work has two great lessons for us to take away with us:

  • It is up to you, and only you, to decide to transform your pains into something productive and impactful, no matter how many people were touched in the process, but how these were transformed;
  • Our emotions should be understood, lived, and not hidden. One of the things that make you who you are is your feelings, so do not be afraid to show it.

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Book Frida: The Biography of Frida Kahlo - Hayden Herrera