The Passion of Frida Kahlo

The Passion of Frida Kahlo

Today I taught about the extraordinary Mexican artist Frida Kahlo to teenagers, in conjunction with a lesson about color, acrylic painting, and self-portraits. Last week they had learned about color mixing, and painted the color wheel, some of them for the first time. They played with mixing colors, discovering (I hope)  some of their personal color tastes and preferences, and feelings for color as they used the primaries to mix the secondaries, the primaries and secondaries to create the tertiaries, and use white to create tints.

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All this was partially in preparation for painting today, inspired by Frida. The students used a photograph of themselves as a starting point, and painted around it, and “into it” (over it, if they so chose), and they will work on these and hopefully complete them next week.  Preparing for this class brought me into contact with the work and life of Frida Kahlo…not for the first time…and then trying to communicate about her to the students.  I thought I would share as bit of her work, life and  spirit with You.

FK7‘Frida in Coyoacán’, 1939 (photograph by Nickolas Muray)

Frida Kahlo de Rivera ,  born Magdalena Carmen Frieda Kahlo y Calderón, was a Mexican painter  who is best known for her self-portraits: her paintings of herself.

FK4“The Frame” (“Le Cadre”), 1937-38, oil on aluminum and glass

Some have called her the world’s most famous female painter. She was also a political activist and legend in her own lifetime and beyond, an extraordinary and unique personality who took what Life dealt her, and rewove it into passionate, lyrical and unforgettable works that continued to be treasured today. She left the world a unique treasure: her works a painted diary. She revealed her inner and outer life with passion, courage and visual  poetry filled with color and magic.

FK_self-portrait-with-bonito-1941“Self-Portrait with Bonito”, 1941, oil on canvas

Frida Kahlo’s life began and ended in the same, now famous, house. She was born in 1907 in the  Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of Coyoacan, Mexico City, and died in 1954 in her family home, La Casa Azul, the Blue House,  now the Frida Kahlo Museum.

FK_kahlo-houseLa Casa Azul, (The Blue House)

Frida Kahlo survived numerous challenges both physical and emotional in her life, including contracting polio as a child, a long recovery from a serious bus accident, and two tempestuous marriages to and divorces from  painter Diego Rivera. She mined these experiences, as well as her strong feelings about her Mexican identity,  politics and cultural influences to create highly evocative and personal paintings that communicate universal human feelings and experiences..

At the age of six, she was stricken with polio. It affected her right leg. She spent nine months in bed.

She studied in Mexico City at the National Preparatory School. She planned to become a doctor, but an almost fatal bus accident at the age of 18 changed her life forever. Following her accident she began painting intensely. Perhaps best known for her self-portraits, Kahlo’s work is remembered for its “pain and passion”, and its intense, vibrant colors.

FK6‘Self Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird‘,
1940 (oil on canvas)

She produced 143 paintings, 55 of which are self-portraits. When asked why she painted so many self-portraits, Frida replied: “Because I am so often alone….because I am the subject I know best.”

A strikingly handsome woman, the Frida was known to stop traffic in San Francisco, New York and Paris in her long traditional Mexican dresses, her hair braided  with ribbons and flowers to identify with her indigenous Mexican culture. Frida dressed this way throughout her adult life, partly to hide a shorter right leg caused by childhood polio.

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Frida in one of her traditional Mexican outfits

Frida Kahlo used personal symbols to express her feelings in her paintings.  Though some have labeled her art as Naïve art or folk art, Surrealism or Magic Realism, she considered her art to be realistic.  Each self-portrait captures aspects of her feelings, and her life experience.  In the style of “Magic, or Magical Realism”, magical elements are presented as a natural part of an otherwise realistic environment.

FK5‘Self Portrait’, 1940, (oil on board)

Frida lived her life to the fullest, despite immense pain,challenges, and suffering. She had a gift for communicating her emotions to the world through painting. Her paintings are beautiful, often heartbreaking works, and are uniquely her style. Yet she was an amazing woman in her own right, for what she has endured, how she persevered, and how she remains an  inspiration and example of strength. She said,

“I am not sick. I am broken.
But I am happy as long as I can paint.”

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Unforgettable Frida

She died on July 13, 1954 of a blockage in her lungs at age 47.

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“Folk Art Everywhere”

“Folk Art Everywhere”

CAFAM, or the Craft and Folk Art Museum, in Los Angeles, has  marvelous public programs.

 Called “Folk Art Everywhere“, this unique program … promotes the unique cultural and artistic landscape of Los Angeles by bringing art into unexpected spaces and celebrating all folk. Look for us in restaurants, markets, community centers, coffee shops, bookstores and other places where people naturally gather.”

All over the city, interested participants can learn to build their own percussion instruments, help to create a one-hour radio segment, or, as we did recently, observe and savor a Traditional Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony.

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Held at the  Little Ethiopian Restaurant, located in no other than the  “Little Ethiopia” neighborhood of L.A., our adventure was kicked off by the owner sharing with us the concept and meaning of the traditional coffee-making ritual of his native Ethiopia.

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We were a varied, enthusiastic, and fascinated group, asking many questions, such as what was the significance of the popcorn displayed in bowls on the long table. Answer as I understood it: the popcorn represents the harvest.  And, it is a fun and tasty little prelude to the freshly made coffee we were going to taste.

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The raw coffee beans are roasted.  The popcorn is nibbled.

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An electric burner substitutes for the traditional brazier, and modern coffee grinder for the more time-consuming mortar and pestle.

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The Jebena,  the traditional container used to brew the coffee, is usually made of pottery. “Typically when the coffee boils up through the neck it is poured in and out of another container to cool it, and then is put back into the jebena until it happens again. To pour the coffee from the jebena a filter made from horsehair or other material is placed in the spout of the jebena to prevent the grounds from escaping.” —http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jebena

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Our lovely and friendly guide!

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The moment we have all been waiting for, (or I have, anyway!).  Encouraged by the tantalizing fragrance, we are at last able to “wake up and smell the coffee”…and taste it too!

I am here to tell you…it didn’t disappoint!  And neither did the delicious Ethiopian lunch we enjoyed afterwards.  We needed some sustenance to go with our coffee, of course.

Learning about cuisine and culture, enjoying gastronomic delights, chatting with like-minded individuals…what’s not to love?

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Many thanks to Mr. Sonny Abegaze, Project Manager, Folk Art Everywhere, A Project of the Craft and Folk Art Museum.

Another example of L.A.’s moveable feast.  Don’t miss it.  Folk Art  IS Everywhere!