We are probably at our most human when we are naked, sick, or otherwise emotionally or physically vulnerable. Yet we spend so much energy hiding these real or perceived vulnerabilities, to the point where there are just some things people don’t want to hear or talk about.
I can’t help but think of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. A fascinating figure in her own right whose paintings are stunningly beautiful, she may not have received the acclaim she deserved in her lifetime because she was married to famed muralist Diego Rivera. Much of what I know about Frida I learned from my time spent at an amazing Web site, Frida Kahlo Fans. It’s well worth a visit. There was a 2002 movie called Frida, that I have not seen yet, for which Salma Hayek was nominated for an Oscar.
Frida was a victim of a horrific traffic accident in her late teens that left her physically and emotionally scarred. It was from that experience that she began painting.
It was said of Frida that her paintings were her biography. She painted 143 painting in her lifetime and an astonishing 55 of them were self portraits. Not only did she embrace what some may see as unattractive physical features (she had a unibrow and a bit of a mustache), she symbolized how she was feeling in her pictures. Sometimes she represented her personal sexuality and sometimes her societal role as a wife.
By the same token, suffice it to say she had some issues, including a rocky relationship with her husband, miscarriages, and residual physical pain. Many of her works display copious amounts of blood.
Although this is not one of Frida’s self portraits, consider the painting shown here.
Frida was once commissioned to paint a portrait of Dorothy Hale, an actress who committed suicide. It was intended that the portrait would be presented to Dorothy’s mother as a gift.
Naturally, it was expected that the picture would be of a beautiful, vibrant, and happy Dorothy; but instead, Frida portrayed the various stages of the woman’s suicide as she hurls herself out of the window of a high-rise building and lands, bloody, on the ground. It did not go over well.
Of course, this would not have been an appropriate gift for a grieving mother. Web site creator Mike Brooks says that Frida may have been influenced by her own feelings of dispair due to the breakup of her marriage during the time she was creating this painting. The feeling Frida invested in this painting is probably why it is effective even without knowing the background story.
I don’t know of any other painter who depicted as much personal emotional content as shown in this painting and others. Some may think such things are better left unsaid. For my part, I think that much of the truth lies in what we are reluctant to say.
© Sweepy Jean and Sweepy Jean Explores the (Webby) World, 2010.