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Posts Tagged ‘biographies of Hispanic artists’

Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray 1939. Friday wears ivory earrings given to her by artist Pablo Picasso.

Frida Kahlo photographed by Nickolas Muray outside her home, La Casa Azul, Coyoacán, Mexico. 1939

Because she was ill for so much of her adult life, artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) spent much of her time in bed. Her bedroom was upstairs in her home, La Casa Azul (The Blue House), in Coyoacán, outside Mexico City. As a result, her bedroom became her daily world. She gathered around her necessary things and things of beauty.

On the underside of the bed canopy a mirror was hung so that Frida could see herself. Lying in the bed, she could paint self-portraits using the wooden easel her mother gave her. Her paintbrushes, paints, and diary were nearby. She covered her headboard with photographs of loved ones and political idols: Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. In the bedroom were her toy collections, pre-Hispanic art pieces, Judas figures, and a diorama of mounted butterflies under glass. The room was fragrant with medicines and perfumes.

The room was both her haven and her prison.

Frida Kahlo's bed at La Casa Azul

Frida Kahlo’s bed at La Casa Azul

 

Frida Kahlo painting in bed. Undated photo

Frida Kahlo painting in bed. Undated photo

Source: Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1990.

For more about Frida Kahlo, click here.

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Diego Rivera shown with wife, Frida Kahlo. Frida's mother called them "the Elephant and the Dove."

Elvis Presley at his shiniest

What did Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and rock sensation Elvis Presley have in common?

They both had twin brothers who died.

Diego Rivera and his twin brother Carlos were born on December 8, 1886 in Guanajato, Mexico. Carlos, however, died eighteen months later.

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera (1886-1957)

On January 8, 1935, in Tupelo, Mississippi, Gladys Presley gave birth to identical twin boys. The first one, Jesse Garon Presley, was stillborn. Thirty-five minutes later, Elvis Aaron (Aron) Presley entered this world. Gladys told Elvis that, as the surviving twin, he had been destined for great things.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, click here.

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In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe," Leon Trotsky makes an appearance.

In this 1934 Diego Rivera mural, "Man, Controller of the Universe," Leon Trotsky makes an appearance.

In 1937, Frida Kahlo took a new lover. He was Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary. When Frida met Trotsky, he was a man without a country. He had come to Mexico as a political refugee. He had been expelled from the Soviet Union by his archrival Josef Stalin. For nine years, Trotsky and his wife Natalia had lived in exile, searching in vain for political asylum in Turkey, France, and Norway, with no country wanting to admit them permanently, fearing reprisals from the Soviets (they threatened, for instance, to cancel their large exports of Norwegian herring).

Trotskyites all over the world were frantic with worry. Frida’s husband Diego Rivera, a well-known Communist and recent convert to Trotsky’s brand of Communism, came to the Trotskys’ rescue, intervening on their behalf with the Mexican government to grant them asylum in Mexico City.

Diego was hospitalized with eye and kidney problems when, on the morning of January 9, 1937,  the steamship carrying Trotsky and his wife arrived in Tampico harbor. Natalia Trotsky refused to disembark until she was sure she was safe and saw some familiar faces. She had lived for years surrounded by guards and under threat by assassination by Stalin’s agents. She was afraid to leave the boat. Finally a government cutter approached carrying a welcoming party of Mexican authorities, Communist party members, journalists, and Frida Kahlo, who was standing in for the ill Diego. (1)

Satisfied they were in safe hands, Trotsky and Natalia walked down the wooden pier to freedom. He, wearing tweed knickerbockers and a cap, and carrying a briefcase and a cane, walked with his chin held high, his stride that of a proud soldier. She, a little dowdy in a suit and looking worn and worried, watched her feet so as not to trip on the rought planks of the narrow dock. Just behind them walked Frida, lithe and exotic in her rebozo (shawl) and long skirt.” (1)

Natalia and Leon Trotsky arriving in Tampico, Mexico, January 9, 1937, greeted by artist Frida Kahlo, center.

Natalia and Leon Trotsky arriving in Tampico, Mexico, January 9, 1937, greeted by artist Frida Kahlo, center.

A train carried them to the capital where Rivera awaited them. The two great men, lovers of Communism, embraced, then all four drove quickly to Frida’s childhood home in Coyoacan called the Blue House. There the Trotskys would live rent-free, off and on for two years, with their every need and want attended to by Frida, Diego, Cristina Kahlo, friends, and Trotskyite party members who acted as guards, chauffeurs, escorts, and advisers.

Diego had the blue house turned into a fortress. The windows that faced the street were filled in with adobe bricks. Police stood guard during the day, Trotskyites by night. Diego even bought the property next door and connected the two buildings to provide a larger garden and a wing with a studio for Frida, as she would be the Trotskys’ chief  hostess.

"Fulang-Chang and I," by Frida Kahlo, 1937. At age 29, Frida was at her loveliest.

"Fulang-Chang and I," by Frida Kahlo, 1937. At age 29, Frida was at her loveliest.

It didn’t take long for both Frida and Trotsky to start making eyes at each other. Both were notorious for conducting extramarital love affairs. Trotsky and Frida spoke English to one another, which left Natalia guessing what they were saying, as she didn’t speak English (and Diego’s English was deplorable).

The two couples saw a lot of each other. Frida was openly flirtatious with Trotsky,  calling him “love”  and hoping to make Diego insanely jealous in retaliation for his affair with her sister Cristina (See previous post, “Frida Kahlo: I Can’t Live, if Living is Without You!”).

Trotsky slipped love letters into books he loaned Frida. By late spring of 1937, the two were immersed in a full-fledged love affair. They met secretly at Cristina Kahlo’s house, which Diego probably had bought her. Frida nicknamed Trotsky “Piochitas” (little goatee) for his white beard and called him also “el viejo,” as he was 58 years old while she was only 29.

By late July, though, the affair had fizzled out. Frida had proved to herself that she could still attract men and returned, as usual, to doting on Diego. The end may have come about, though, because Natalia and Diego discovered the affair (which could have been Frida’s intention all along).  Over time, Diego and Trotsky had several philosophical disagreements about Communism. Diego ceased to be a Trotskyite. Soon, the couples grew apart, although the Trotskys remained in Mexico, they moved out of the Blue House.

Frida, though, remained friends with Trotsky. She painted a self-portrait for him. The painting shows her standing between two curtains, holding a piece of paper that says in Spanish,

‘To Trotsky with great affection, I dedicate this painting November 7, 1937. Frida Kahlo, in San Angel, Mexico.’ The date was significant because it was both Trotsky’s birthday and the anniversary of the October Revolution, according to the Gregorian calendar.” (2)

"Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky Between the Curtains," by Frida Kahlo, 1937

"Self-Portrait Dedicated to Leon Trotsky Between the Curtains," by Frida Kahlo, 1937

Less than three years later, Trotsky was dead. On August 20, 1940, he was attacked in his home by an assassin sent by Stalin named Ramón Mercader, who buried the pick of an ice axe into Trotsky’s skull. Trotsky died the next day.

Leon Trotsky on his Deathbed, August 21, 1940

Leon Trotsky on his Deathbed, August 21, 1940

Frida was distraught. She called Diego in San Francisco to tell him the news.

“They killed old Trotsky this morning,” she cried. “Estupido! It’s your fault that they killed him. Why did you bring him?” (1)

Frida had met the assassin once in Paris and had invited him to her house in Coyoacan to dine, which placed her under suspicion. She was picked up by the Mexican police and interrogated for 12 hours, before being released, two days later, without charge.

(1) Herrera, Hayden. Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: Harper & Row Publishers, Inc., 1983.
(2)Zamora, Martha. Frida Kahlo: The Brush of Anguish. San Francisco, Chronicle Books, 1990.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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"Fulang-Chang and I" by Frida Kahlo, 1937. Fulang-Chang was Frida's favorite spider monkey.

"Fulang-Chang and I" by Frida Kahlo, 1937. Fulang-Chang was Frida's favorite spider monkey.

As discussed in a previous post, “Frida Kahlo: A Few Small Nips,” Frida was devastated to learn of her husband Diego Rivera‘s affair with her younger sister Cristina. No one really knows exactly when Diego and Cristina began their affair, but, by early 1935, Frida had moved out of her San Angel house she shared with Diego and, taking her favorite spider monkey, rented an apartment in the center of Mexico City. Frida was determined to try and create and independent life for herself. She had not yet become a celebrated artist and was financially dependent upon Diego.

But Frida couldn’t make the break. Although Frida had a strong life force, she became desperately insecure without Diego around to praise her talents and beauty. Although she had moved out to get away from Diego, she continued to see him constantly, he keeping some of his clothes in her apartment and buying her a set of blue leather furniture just like the red set he’d given Cristina for her place. 

Frida was so mixed up and unhappy. Both living with Diego made her miserable and living without him made her miserable.

Cracks began to appear in the brave face Frida showed her friends. Old boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias visited her at her flat one day. Frida, glancing out the window, spotted her sister Cristina at a gas station across the road. Frida flew into a rage.

Look!” she cried. “Come here! Why does she come and fill up her car in front of my house?”

Diego Rivera

Diego Rivera

Finally, in early July, Frida packed and took off to New York with friends. After confiding her troubles, she came to a decision. She could not live without Diego. She reconciled herself to the fact that, should she stay married to Diego, he would continue his skirt-chasing. On July 23, 1935, she wrote him a letter:

[I know now that] all these letters, liaisons with petticoats, lady teachers of ‘English,’ gypsy models, assistants with ‘good intentions,’ ‘plenipotentiary emissaries from distant places,’ only represent flirtations, and that at bottom you and i love each other dearly….

All these things have been repeated throughout the seven years that we have lived together, and all the rages I have gone through have served only to make me understand in the end that I love you more than my own skin….”

Frida returned to San Angel to live, once again, with Diego. Diego continued his philandering ways. Frida herself began a flurry of affairs with a number of people, both men and women. The relationships were often fiery and fleeting. She was fascinated by great men and women.

Diego was not jealous of Frida’s women lovers but was extremely jealous of the men. One of Frida’s lovers included the American sculptor Isamu Noguchi who had come to Mexico to do a mural.

When Rivera discovered it, he was so enraged that he sped to the Coyoacán house, where the lovers were in bed. Frida’s mozo (houseboy), Chucho, warned his mistress of Diego’s arrival. Noguchi threw on his clothes, but one of the hairless dogs pounced upon a sock and ran off with it. Noguchi…abandoned the sock, scrambled up the orange tree in the patio, and fled over the roof. Of course, Diego found the sock and did what Mexican machos are supposed to do under such circumstances.

As Noguchi tells it: ‘Diego came by with a gun. He always carried a gun.'”(1)

Diego demanded that Frida and Noguchi end the affair.

(1) Herrera, Hayden.  Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo. New York: HarperCollins, 1983.

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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Diego Rivera, seated in front of a mural depicting the American class struggle, 1933.

Diego Rivera, seated in front of a mural depicting the American class struggle, 1933.

Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) went into her marriage (1929) with her eyes wide open. She knew that her husband, famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, spread his affections around. Diego engaged in numerous short-lived and casual relationships with the fawning women – actresses, models, artists, photographers – who flocked around him. He was Mexico‘s most celebrated artist of his time.

"Portrait of Lupe Marin," by Diego Rivera, 1938

"Portrait of Lupe Marin," by Diego Rivera, 1938

Diego’s many extramarital affairs had destroyed his previous marriage to Lupe Marín, Once, in front of a group of guests, a jealous Lupe made quite a scene, tearing a rival’s hair, ripping up some of Diego’s drawings, and beating Diego with her fists. Another time she smashed some of his archaeological artifacts and served the broken shards to Diego in a soup bowl.

At the beginning of their marriage, whenever Frida learned of yet another of Diego’s affairs, she managed to put on a good face.  She pretended it did not hurt her, excusing Diego by saying flippantly, “How would I be able to love someone who wasn’t attractive to other women?” She retaliated by having love affairs of her own, with men and with women, once telling acquaintance Jean van Heijenoort that her view of life was

Make love, take a bath, make love again.”

She held up until the year 1934. That was the year Frida and Diego returned from living three years in the United States. Their funds were low. Diego’s Rockefeller Center mural had caused a terrible controversy. Diego had painted a heroic portrait of the Russian Communist leader Vladimir Lenin in the mural and had refused to paint him out. Diego was fired and the mural was then destroyed. Homesick for Mexico, Frida made Diego return home, against his wishes. Diego sulked.

"Portrait of My Sister Cristina Kahlo," by Frida Kahlo, 1928 (portion)

"Portrait of My Sister Cristina Kahlo," by Frida Kahlo, 1928 (portion)

Demoralized and broke, both of them were also in poor health. Diego had maintained a grueling painting schedule on the scaffold, turning out murals in San Francisco, Detroit, and New York, and was “weak, thin, yellow, and morally exhausted,” Frida wrote to her friend Ella Wolfe that July. Frida had been in the hospital three times that year – for an appendectomy, a therapeutic abortion, and foot surgery.

No one knows exactly when Diego began his affair with Frida’s sister Cristina; it was probably in the summer of 1934. Frida was devastated. Cristina was not just her sister but her confidante. Cristina’s husband had left her in 1930 and, since then, she and her children had spent a great deal of time at Frida and Diego’s house. Cristina had served as a model many times for Diego’s murals and they had grown very close, too close, to Frida’s chagrin. Diego had, no doubt, seduced Cristina with his clever words, and convinced her that he needed her, reminding Cristina that Frida was too sick for lovemaking and that he, Diego, was sad and needy.

"Self-Portrait with Curly Hair," by Frida Kahlo, 1935

"Self-Portrait with Curly Hair," by Frida Kahlo, 1935

In her great anguish, Frida cut off her long hair and stopped wearing the native Mexican costumes that were her signature look and that made Diego so happy. She painted a self-portrait of her new look. This little painting, 7-1/4 x 5-3/4 inches, was called “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair.” Her smallest canvas ever,  Frida gave the little painting to Ella Wolfe, Frida’s longtime friend and the wife of Diego Rivera’s biographer, Bertram Wolfe. Ella kept the painting until 2000. In 2003, “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair” was auctioned off by Artemundi & Co. and sold for $1,351,500.00. Today, Frida Kahlo remains the most expensive-selling female artist in the history of art.

During that period of terrible pain from the betrayal by both  husband and sister, Frida painted another painting quite different from “Self-Portrait with Curly Hair.” This one was morbid, bloody, disquieting. Shown below, “A Few Small Nips” features a woman being literally “murdered by life,” as Frida herself felt, murdered both physically by her chronic pain and suffering and emotionally by Diego and Cristina. The painting’s theme is based on a newspaper account of a real murder. A drunken guy threw his girlfriend on a cot and stabbed her 20 times. When interviewed, the brutal murderer protested his innocence, saying, “But I only gave her a few small nips.”

"A Few Small Nips" by Frida Kahlo, 1935, is based on a newspaper account of a real murder. A drunk threw his girlfriend on a cot and stabbed her 20 times. When interviewed, he protested his innocence, saying, "But I only gave her a few small nips."

"A Few Small Nips" by Frida Kahlo, 1935.

NEXT: Frida to Diego: I Can’t Live, if Living is Without You!

Readers: For more on Frida Kahlo on this blog, click here.

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Click here to read “Frida Kahlo’s First Bad Accident” before reading this post.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their wedding photo, 1929

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their wedding photo, 1929

Frida Kahlo once said to a friend, “I have suffered two serious accidents in my life, one in which a streetcar ran over me….The other accident is Diego.”

She was referring to her husband, Diego Rivera (1886-1957), the world famous painter and active Communist. He painted large-scale murals in Mexico, New York City, Detroit, and San Francisco. Diego was 21 years older than Frida and their marriage in 1929 offered Frida, a budding artist, to move not only in elite Mexican artistic and intellectual circles, but those in Europe and America as well. But the price Frida paid for marrying a renowned “lady chaser” was high. Their marriage was tempestuous. They divorced once and remarried a year later; they were separated several times.

Many people were surprised by what they considered a strange match. Frida once told a journalist:

When I was seventeen, Diego began to fall in love with me. My father didn’t like him because he was a Communist and because they said he looked like a fat, fat, fat Breughel. They said it was like an elephant marrying a dove. Nevertheless, I arranged everything in the Coyoacán town hall for us to be married on the twenty-first of August, 1929.”

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera, 1935

"The Flower Carrier" by Diego Rivera, 1935

Frida was 22, Diego, 43. It was Diego’s first legal marriage, although, by then, there had been many women and two long-term relationships. For ten years during the 1910s, he lived in Paris with the Russian artist Angelina Beloff. Together they had a son who died young. Then, in 1922, he married the Mexican Lupe Marín, with whom he had two daughters. Though a serious commitment, Diego and Lupe had not legalized their relationship with a civil ceremony so Diego was free to marry Frida without divorcing Lupe.

Frida’s recollection of her wedding to Diego gives an idea of how difficult a man Diego was to be married to:

I borrowed petticoats, a blouse, and a rebozo from the maid, fixed the special apparatus on my foot so it wouldn’t be noticeable, and we were married. Nobody went to the wedding, only my father, who said to Diego, ‘Now, look, my daughter is a sick person and all her life she’s going to be sick. She’s intelligent but not pretty. Think it over awhile if you like, and if you still wish to marry her, marry her, I give you my permission.'”

"Frida and Diego Rivera" by Frida Kahlo, 1931

"Frida and Diego Rivera" by Frida Kahlo, 1931

Diego added that her father mentioned that she was un demonio – a devil. Frida continues, describing her wedding reception:

Then they gave us a big party in Roberto Montenegro’s house. Diego got horrendously drunk on tequila, waved his pistol about, broke some man’s little finger, and destroyed some things. Afterward, we got mad at each other; I left crying and went home. A few days went by and Diego came to get me and took me to his house at 104 Reforma.'”

Despite their stormy relationship, Diego and Frida loved and needed each other.

NEXT: Frida Kahlo: A Few, Small Nips

READERS: For more posts on Frida Kahlo, click here.

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"The Bus," by Frida Kahlo (1929). Frida painted her recollection of the last moments aboard the bus before the terrible accident that robbed her of her health. She is pictured on the far right. Notice that she is not dressed in traditional Mexican costume. She adopted that exotic look later, after her 1929 marriage to flamboyant Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

“The Bus,” by Frida Kahlo (1929). Frida painted her recollection of the last moments aboard the bus before the terrible accident that robbed her of her health. She is pictured on the far right. Notice that she is not dressed in traditional Mexican costume. She adopts that exotic look later, after her 1929 marriage to flamboyant Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) once said that she suffered two bad accidents in her life. The first one occurred on September 17, 1925. It would transform her life forever. Frida was only 18.

It was a gray day. A light rain had just fallen. After spending the afternoon wandering among the street stalls of downtown Mexico City, Frida and her boyfriend Alex Gómez Arias caught a bus that would take them home to Coyoacán. The new bus was brightly painted with two benches along the sides. It was nearly full but Alex and Frida found seats together near the back. The bus driver sped off to cross the busy streets on his way out of town.

As the bus driver began to turn onto Calzada de Tlapan, a street trolley approached. The bus driver rashly tried to pass in front of the turning streetcar. He didn’t make it. Alex remembers the point of impact:

The electric train [streetcar] with two cars approached the bus slowly. It hit the bus in the middle. Slowly the train  pushed the bus. The bus had a strange elasticity. It bent more and more, but for a time it did not break. It was a bus with long benches on either side. I remember that at one moment my knees touched the knees of the person sitting opposite me. I was sitting next to Frida. When the bus reached its maximal flexibility it burst into a thousand pieces, and the train kept moving. It ran over many people.

I remained under the train. Not Frida. But among the iron rods of the train, the handrail broke and went through Frida from one side to the other at the level of the pelvis.”

Frida said that the “handrail pierced me the way a sword pierces a bull.” Alex continues:

When I was able to stand up, I got out from under the train. I had no lesions, only contusions. Naturally the first thing that I did was to look for Frida.

"Accident" by Frida Kahlo (1926)

Something strange had happened. Frida was totally nude. The collision had unfastened her clothes. Someone in the bus, probably a house painter, had been carrying a packet of powdered gold. This package broke, and the gold fell all over the bleeding body of Frida. When people saw her, they cried, ‘La bailarina, la bailarina!’ With the gold on her red, bloody body, they thought she was a dancer.

I picked her up….and then I noticed with horror that Frida had a piece of iron in her body. A man said, ‘We have to take it out!’  He put his knee on Frida’s body and said, ‘Let’s take it out.’ When he pulled it out, Frida screamed so loud that when the ambulance from the Red Cross arrived, her screaming was louder than the siren. Before the ambulance came, I picked up Frida and put her in the display window of a billiard room. I took off my coat and put it over her. I thought she was going to die. Two or three people did die at the scene….others died later.”

"Self-Portrait for Alejandro Gomez Arias," by Frida Kahlo (1926)

Frida’s condition was so grave doctors didn’t believe they could save her. They thought she would die on the operating table. Her spinal column was broken in three places in the lumbar region. Her collarbone was broken and her third and fourth ribs. Her right leg had eleven fractures and her right foot was dislocated and crushed. Her left shoulder was out of joint, her pelvis broken in three places. The steel handrail produced a deep abdominal wound, entering through the left hip and exiting through the genitals. She convalesced for two years though she would never fully recover.

It was while she was confined to bed that Frida began to paint, using a small lap easel her mother bought for her. Frida had a mirror hung overhead in the canopy of her bed so she could use her reflection as a beginning subject for portraits.

Next: Frida Kahlo: The Other Accident

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