Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera

I took a side trip to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art while we were in Kansas City for the Red Sox Games. Made a visit to the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera exhibit. Nice diversion. 

One of Frida Kahlo's fifty-five self portraits. Notice the image of Rivera on her forehead, a symbol of his constant presence with her. 

One of Frida Kahlo's fifty-five self portraits. Notice the image of Rivera on her forehead, a symbol of his constant presence with her. 

Kathlo's artwork is colorful and full of emotion. Even though she had a painful life--both physically and emotionally--she left a legacy that brings people to see her art, write books about her, and be left wanting to know more. The single dark eyebrow is her iconic look and her fifty-five self-portraits make a lasting impression. "I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best," she wrote in an autobiography co-written with Andrea Kettenmann. 

She not only regularly painted herself, but she also changed her birthdate from July 6, 1907, to July 7, 1910. The latter date coincided with the year of the beginning of the Mexican revolution. She wanted her birth to be associated with the starting point of modern Mexico.

Kahlo was born on the outskirts of Mexico City in a home known as The Blue House. She lived there until she died at age 47. Her life was permanently changed in 1925, at age 18. She was riding in a bus that collided with a trolley car. She spent three months recovering from broken bones throughout her body and never was pain-free for the remainder of her life. She was studying medicine at the time, but she began painting to pass the time while she recovered. Her self-portraits include symbols of her physical and psychological wounds. "I never painted dreams," she said. "I painted my own reality." 

Kahlo and Rivera in 1932, three years after their first marriage.

Kahlo and Rivera in 1932, three years after their first marriage.

Kahlo's association with Rivera began in 1927 when she sought his opinion of her work. He was impressed and became a frequent, welcomed guest at The Blue House. He encouraged her to continue painting. He saw how she was influenced by her  Mexican heritage--bright colors and dramatic symbols. Even though Rivera was twenty years older than Kahlo, they married in 1929. It was a troubled marriage, complicated by extramarital affairs for both of them. They divorced in November 1939, but remarried December 1940. They couldn't seem to live with each other or without each other. 

By 1939, the Louvre in Paris had acquired one of Kahlo's paintings. This was her single claim to fame while she was alive. Otherwise, she was known as Rivera's wife. Only toward the end of the 1970s did her style gain popularity. By then, exhibitions of her work had been shown worldwide. Even movies had been made about her life and her work, as well as books written. She continues to be followed and her work explored. In 2001, she was the first Hispanic woman to be honored with a U.S. postage stamp, and on her one-hundreth birthday--July 7, 2010--Google replaced its standard logo with a Kahlo portrait. In August of that year, the Bank of Mexico issued a new 500-peso note with Frida and one of her paintings on one side; Rivera on the reverse side. 

Rivera is best known for his large fresco works. He helped establish the Mexican Mural Movement in Mexican Art with his huge, colorful works. His art tells many stories through the murals that exist all over Mexico and from San Francisco to New York City. His style was based on large, simplified figures and bold colors with an Aztec influence.

In the meantime, Rivera joined the Mexican Communist Party. He began a huge project for the Public Education in Mexico City, consisting of one-hundred and twenty-four frescoes. He finished in 1928. Politically, he lived on the edge and eventually was expelled from the Mexican Communist Party. Some of his work for Public Education was struck down and painted over for the same reason. Kahlo lived and worked side by side with Rivera, while he received much acclaim (both positive and negative) and she, almost none. 

Walking the Nelson-Atkins gallery, looking first at Kahlo's self-portraits and then viewing Rivera's larger works took my breath away. Their expressions of pain and grief mingled viscerally with moments of beauty and joy. The trauma that happened between them was palpable, not to be missed. Color and emotion dominated the exhibit. It was a good investment of time and dollars. And an additional bonus: the Musuem Bookstore will now carry my book about Gordon Parks. Day well spent. 

Frida Kahlo's Blue House, Coyoacan, Mexico, is now a museum, open for tourists. 

Frida Kahlo's Blue House, Coyoacan, Mexico, is now a museum, open for tourists.