Frida Kahlo Biography


Turning Pain into Art

Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird - 1940

When people look at her paintings, they often see pain. The Mexican artist Frida Kahlo suffered for much of her life. Of her 200 paintings, many reflect her pain.

Frida was striking, with long black hair. Her thick "bird wing" eyebrows arched over magnetic black eyes. She was a curious child, interested in science, nature, and photography.

When Frida was six, she was stricken with polio. The disease made her right leg weak. Kids often teased her. Still, Frida was full of mischief. At school, she often led students in playing pranks on teachers. When a famous painter came to paint a mural, Frida played a prank on him, too. That painter, Diego Rivera, married Frida some years later.

When she was 18, a bus accident left her with a broken foot, leg, spinal column, collarbone, ribs and pelvis. For a month, Frida lay flat on her back, her body in a plaster cast. When she was a bit stronger but still confined to bed, Frida became bored. She began to paint. Painting helped release her pent-up emotions.

Frida became one of the world's most talked about artists of the 20th century. Despite her fame, Frida painted mainly for herself. "I paint because I need to," she said, "and I paint whatever passes through my head." In her self-portraits, Frida is surrounded by things that are important to her - a monkey, a cat, plants. Her paintings reflect the physical hurt she endured every day. In them, viewers also see the emotional hurt she suffered in her relationships and a stormy marriage.

Suffering is not Frida's only subject. Her paintings also highlight the unspoiled aspects of Mexican folk art. Frida even dressed in traditional Mexican clothing—long colorful dresses and exotic jewelry. She wore her hair in braids. She was also concerned about social issues. She captured on canvas the unfair treatment given to her country's poor.

Throughout her life, Frida underwent 30 operations. When the first exhibit of her work was planned in 1953, doctors told her she was not well enough to go. Frida insisted. She was driven to the gallery in an ambulance. Friends carried her in on a stretcher. From a bed, surrounded by her paintings, Frida talked, laughed, sang, and joked with her friends and admirers. Though her body was broken and weak, Frida Kahlo's spirit still soared.

Venezia, Mike. Frida Kahlo. Children's Press, A Division of Grolier Publishing, Danbury, CT, 1999

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  • Randy Allen
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