Frida Kahlo (2020) Movie Script

"It's been such a long time since I've written
that I don't know where to start this letter.
I've never suffered so much,
and I did not think I could take so much pain.
I know it's going to take me years
to be able to get out of this mess that I have in my head.
That's why I've decided to tell you everything now."
Frida Kahlo was a genius.
She is in many ways a unique artist.
Her work transcends time.
She is iconic.
You feel like you know her.
I've met people who really don't like Frida Kahlo's paintings.
I think it is because they are so visceral, so personal.
She could say, through art, the unsayable,
the repressed, the taboo, and give it a voice.
That's why she is so important.
Whatever point people enter into thinking about Frida Kahlo,
whether it's the biography, whether it's the tragedy,
or whether it's the,
"What was this artist doing and who were they as an intellectual?"
there is a story there to be enjoyed
that is deeply immersive and captivating.
Frida Kahlo was born on the 6th of July 1907
in Coyoacn, a fashionable suburb of Mexico City.
She lived with her parents and three sisters in a house built by her father,
which became known as the Casa Azul The Blue House.
Her mother was Mexican, of Indian and Spanish descent,
and Catholic, which is important,
because there's a lot of Catholic imagery in Frida Kahlo's paintings.
Her father was German and an immigrant to Mexico,
and Frida Kahlo had polio when she was a young child
and her father was the one that helped her get stronger afterward,
getting her to do all sorts of athletic things.
She was the child that he said, "Frida is the most like me"
and he almost treated her like a boy.
Mexico City was a very cosmopolitan city.
It had had a cultural life for several hundred years.
The Mexico City elite are very much emulating the high culture of Europe.
And that's something that might have been what motivated her father
to come to Mexico in the first place.
This sophisticated capital with economic opportunity and cultural opportunity.
Guillermo Kahlo, my great-grandfather
was from Pforzheim in Germany on the edge of the Black Forest
He arrived in Mexico aged 19 with a backpack
without speaking any Spanish
He was an avid reader
He painted accomplished watercolours
in a European tradition
He was a photographer
and that was the first contact Frida had with art
seeing her father take photographs
I'm sure that the way later on
Frida came to pose throughout her life
in a very natural way
originated from there
posing for her father Guillermo Kahlo.
She was a very active child
and rambunctious and mischievous and kind of fun.
She was one of the very few girls
accepted to the best school in Mexico City,
the National Preparatory School,
and there she became part of a group called Las Cachuchas.
They were all very brilliant
and they actually even became a little bit political.
writers, philosophers...
One of them was her boyfriend, Alejandro Gmez Arias.
And it's really important to understand
that Frida Kahlo was on a track to become a doctor,
so her schooling was in science.
It was a very macho society, very traditional.
She was very different from the beginning.
But one day in 1925 - September 17th, to be exact -
she and Alejandro Gmez Arias took a bus from Mexico City,
where their school was, to Coyoacn, where the Blue House is, and...
a tram slammed across and just completely devastated her.
It was a fatal crash. People died.
Kahlo was changed forever.
The accident fractured Kahlo's spine,
collarbone, ribs and right leg in eleven places.
Her right foot and left shoulder were dislocated,
and a metal handrail pierced her pelvis.
She spent months recovering.
Enforced confinement returned Kahlo
to her childhood interests in drawing and painting.
Although untutored, she had already shown artistic talent as a young girl.
"I began to paint after the accident.
Papa gave me a little box of paints
and a small book that told me how to prepare the canvases.
My boyfriend Gmez Arias bought me books on painters from Europe.
These were the first books on art that fell into my hands."
When we think about what happened,
she was hospitalised, she felt very lonely
she had to drop out of school,
she would never be a doctor,
people thought she would never walk again.
There was a mirror fixed inside the canopy of her bed,
and a wooden easel, and she started to paint.
And this painting she painted for Alejandro.
At that time she complained
that Alejandro didn't come to see her
His family decided to send him to Germany
so he didn't have to spend his life with an ill woman
He left her
This painting reflects her broad knowledge of the European art
that her father had taught her about
but also her great love that will never be forgotten
for Alejandro Gmez Arias.
Kahlo's Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress
is a very important early painting,
not the first painting but the first sort of formal self-portrait.
The portrait relates to the photograph that her father took of her,
where she is wearing a black silk dress and she is seated in a chair
and she's holding a book, not a brush, not a palette,
and her hair is short there as well.
So Self-Portrait in a Velvet Dress
is Kahlo making a declarative statement to her boyfriend
for whom she painted that painting
that I am the alluring seductive emancipated young modern.
We see her with that intense gaze that will become her look.
When she wrote to Alejandro, she called it "Your Botticelli",
so she associated herself with Botticelli's The Birth of Venus.
When you look at the way her hands are placed,
the gesture is a kind of awkward beginner's attempt
to show the Botticelli hand.
She has a very low-cut dress,
so she tries to accentuate her femininity
although she keeps her connected eyebrows
which, by the way, she often writes that she loves her eyebrows.
I think that's a kind of rebellion that speaks to me.
She knew she could adopt an alternative beauty.
It's a beautiful painting, partly for its emotional resonance, I think.
She was able to put into it that feeling of need
which is strong in all of Frida Kahlo's art,
of desperate need for somebody to love her.
Her earliest paintings, other than the self-portrait,
are almost all of family and friends.
They're very dark, and they're very European, sort of Renaissance.
And she clearly saw Italian Renaissance paintings.
I mean people in Mexico were extremely sophisticated
about what was going on in Europe.
It wasn't an isolated country.
Overwhelming medical bills forced Kahlo
to abandon her studies and her dreams of a medical career.
Instead she turned to politics.
In 1928 she joined the Communist Party
Diego Rivera.
The muralists formed in the wake of the 1910 Revolution -
a decade long civil war
that ended with the overthrowing of a 30-year dictatorship
and the birth of a new Mexico.
You have to remember that Mexico was a new country,
with a new government,
with a new social movement that was reflected in its art.
You had Diego painting murals in the public buildings.
And after the revolution,
Mexican society changed drastically.
Mexico became the centre of culture in America.
You had a great migration of painters, writers and intellectuals
coming to Mexico to experience this social revolution.
You cannot understand the muralists and their art
if you don't understand the revolution
The revolution changed Mexico
It brought about renewal and reform
It embraced both popular Mexican art and pre-Hispanic culture
and gave birth to a great number of major artists
who defined Mexico by saying "We are Mexican."
It was a renaissance that was political,
dismissing the colonial, dismissing the Spanish,
dismissing the bourgeois
and trying to adapt and adopt
the native, indigenous Mexican culture,
the pre-Hispanic culture.
Kahlo became very, very politically aware.
One of the earliest photographs of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera together
is she's wearing this pencil skirt
and she's marching with this huge Rivera,
and it's a Mayday parade
and it's for the workers that they're marching.
And so you have in Frida and Diego the perfect couple.
One was a revolutionary that was free-flying
and the other you have the very professional powerful painter
that painted the spirit of Mexico
and the spirit of the people of Mexico.
Rivera was also a larger-than-life celebrity,
notorious for his numerous and very public love affairs.
He was to change the direction of Kahlo's life,
artistically, politically and emotionally.
They married in 1929.
She apparently wore a servant's clothes.
In her wedding photograph she's smoking.
You can see her breaking all the proper modes of behaviour even then.
Her mother said, "It's like a marriage between an elephant and a dove."
Her father was not against it.
They had financial problems,
and he realised that Diego Rivera was going to be able to support her
and pay her medical bills,
that were going to be large for the rest of her life.
It was a tumultuous marriage.
But her first paintings after the marriage
are very different from the ones before it.
In 1930 Diego Rivera was commissioned
to paint a series of murals in the United States.
In November the couple arrived in San Francisco.
Kahlo's new married life in America
was marked by a change in her mode of dress,
and also her style of painting.
In San Francisco,
in opposition to what the American women are wearing,
she puts on the persona of the Tehuana,
the Mexican woman.
That's the first time she actually embraces that.
She was always interested in Mexicanidad
and devoted to all things Mexican for political reasons,
but here she kind of makes it her own,
that's where she really establishes her sartorial identity.
And she chooses especially costumes from Tehuantepec
where the women are known for their matriarchal society,
for their independence, beauty,
but also its a pre-Hispanic area where indigenous culture thrived
in spite of colonial culture.
So it's a very political statement.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera was painted in San Francisco.
The painting is intentionally nave.
This is a style of painting in this context of revolutionary transformation.
So in a country where the elite had valued the high art of Europe
since the colonial period
they make a conscious choice to reject all of that
and to turn towards the local,
what we call in Spanish "arte popular"
which is folk art, the art of the people.
Against a green background, you have Frida Kahlo,
for the first time, showing herself as a Tehuana woman,
wearing a red rebozo and a green dress
and her hair braided in Tehuana style.
And next to her is her husband, the great Diego Rivera.
And right at the centre we see her placing her hand on his.
Her head is tilted towards him.
His head turns away and it is in the direction of his other hand,
a palette and brushes.
She shows herself as the demure little Mexican wife
and shows him as the great master painter.
You see her in the role of wife and in the role of "La Mexicana",
the paradigmatic Mexican woman.
Eventually we see her give up on the role of wife
but she never gives up on the role of the Mexican woman.
That becomes just a central part of her identity.
From 1926, where she painted her first portrait,
to this more Mexican painting of her with Rivera
in 1931,
is a great leap,
but what happened afterwards is an even greater leap.
So if we move from 1931 to 1932
we see her style, her painting, her art change dramatically.
This portrait representing Luther Burbank
is about a North American scientist
Frida didn't know him as such
but visited his house in Santa Rosa, California
during a trip taken with Diego Rivera
who had been invited to paint murals on various public buildings.
Burbank had died already
but Burbank was a celebrity horticulturalist.
His life's mission was to increase the world's food supply
by hybridising plants.
So Kahlo's painting is directly based on a photograph
that appeared in a magazine.
There perhaps the first evidence that Kahlo painted from photographs.
The Luther Burbank portrait is fascinating
because it is demonstrable evidence
that Kahlo had been exposed to some of the ideas of Surrealism.
The Surrealist manifestos were being read by Mexican intellectuals.
There are articles in the Mexico City newspapers debating what Surrealism is.
So I have no doubt in my mind
that Kahlo would have been reading the Mexico City newspaper.
A sketch of the painting survives
and she makes some changes to the composition.
So this is also evidence that Kahlo wasn't taking the blank canvas
and entirely creating the composition on the canvas.
She was sketching.
You can compare the sketch of Burbank with the painting
and there are some important differences.
She changes the foliate texture of the leaves.
She includes two trees in the final painting
that are a direct reference to Luther Burbank's hybridising plants.
In one the tree is a conventional looking citrus tree with leafy foliage
and in the other tree there's almost no foliage
and there are these gigantic yellow fruits.
In the final painting Burbank emerges from the trunk of a tree.
He's holding a philodendron,
the two citrus trees are in the background
and his feet have transformed into roots
that are anchored in a body buried in the ground.
That is based on Burbank's own story
because he had himself buried on his property.
So there are always artistic conversations in Kahlo's paintings.
I think in Frida's case
she identified with him in that she saw him
as a man that in a way experimented with life and death
It reminded her of how the pre-Hispanic world
perceived this cycle of life
where man finds sustenance to live on Earth
from the earth itself
But once dead we are buried back in the earth
So she represents him as a man-tree
We see him standing but his feet become the tree trunk
that is rooted in the earth
that is rooted in a corpse
which in fact is his own corpse
She allows herself to create this fantastic world
between Luther Burbank's reality
combined with the pre-Hispanic world
which was so important to her.
So it's a very important early mature painting
because then she spends the decade of the '30s
making these small format, small figure,
complex allegorical compositions.
In April 1932 Rivera and Kahlo travelled to Detroit
where Rivera was to paint a mural
on the theme of modern industry at the Institute of Arts.
Rivera was delighted to be in the heart of American industry.
Kahlo was less pleased.
"This city seems to me like a shabby old village.
I don't like it.
But I am happy because Diego is working very contentedly here,
and he has found a lot of material for his frescoes.
He is enchanted with the factories and the machines,
like a child with a new toy.
The industrial part of Detroit is really most interesting,
the rest, as in all of the United States, is ugly and stupid.
The most important thing I want to consult with you about
is the fact I am two months pregnant.
Given my health I thought it would be better to have an abortion.
I want you to tell me what you think in all honesty
since I don't know what to do.
You know better than anyone else what kind of shape I am in.
First, because of the inheritance I carry in my blood,
I don't think the child will come out healthy.
Secondly, I am not strong
and the pregnancy would weaken me even more.
Here I don't have any relatives who could help me
during and after my pregnancy.
No matter how much poor Diego wants to help me he cannot,
since he has all that work and a thousand more things.
I don't think Diego is very interested in having a child
since what he is most concerned with is his work,
and he is more than right.
Children would come in third or fourth place."
She became pregnant in Detroit
and after two months she began bleeding
One month later she wrote again to her friend Dr Leo Eloesser
and she told him she had been bleeding
they had taken her to hospital
and she had lost the baby.
Henry Ford Hospital is one of the first works of art
that really made Frida Kahlo a radical, bold, unprecedented artist.
There is a whole tradition of how the naked woman in a bed is shown
but Kahlo completely dismantles that tradition.
She is showing her experience,
but the experience is one of miscarriage
which has never been displayed anywhere.
It wasn't worthy of art.
So showing a naked woman but not as an object of desire,
not as a sexualised object,
but as the subject of her own story.
She shows her body kind of twisted,
she shows her stomach bloated and she shows vaginal blood.
To the best of my knowledge
this the first time ever where vaginal blood is on display.
Surrounding her and linked to her with red strings
are different objects that she associated with her failed body.
She also has the unborn foetus which is what she lost.
In the background we see Henry Ford Factory
which is where Diego spent all of his time painting
so we have this tension between
the male, external, Diego Rivera focus of Detroit
and then this intimate female experience of loss.
The other thing that is radical here
is that we have a lot of visualisations of birth,
think of nativity scenes,
think of the birth of the Virgin,
but we never see birth visualised in such a way.
Here you have the naked body producing blood and no baby.
So it's an anti-nativity scene and that's why it's radical.
I also think it is a work that begins to take
devotional paintings in churches as a reference
These devotional paintings which tell a story.
These traditional Mexican devotional paintings
were known as retablos or ex-votos.
Small, nave works painted on metal.
In times of distress you would relay your concerns to a retablos painter.
For a few pesos, they painted your story and wrote an inscription underneath.
You displayed the work in your local church or shrine
and asked for deliverance from the saint.
These retablos became a major influence on Kahlo's work.
When she discovered ex-votos
she fell in love with them so much that she started her own collection
She wasn't a Catholic
but she was very focused on its roots
its culture
It was a source of inspiration in many of her works
Possibly because of her illness
she was unable to paint on a canvas
or to go up scaffolding
She adopted small formats inspired by the ex-votos
with the technique of oil on wood or metal
They were painted on metal
because they would be hung on a wall
A wall where there is damp
and a canvas would rot
They were painted on sheets of copper, zinc or tin
This tin which was often used for storing tequila
when they transported tequila containers
Her smaller pieces are clearly based on an ex-voto
I call them 'little films' with a beginning and an end
where the story is told through the scene
and the text gives us the story that we want to tell
I think that it's true Mexican popular art
because you don't need to follow rules
or academic thinking to paint an ex-voto
You just need to have the heart and the faith
that you find in those things.
"Frida began to work on a series of masterpieces
which had no precedent in the history of art.
Paintings which exalted the feminine qualities of endurance,
reality, cruelty, and suffering.
Never before had a woman put such agonised poetry on canvas
as Frida did in Detroit."
Diego Rivera.
She became an artist
and we see that she intentionally knows that she became an artist
in August of 1932, so it's like a month after she almost died.
She goes to a lithograph shop, a print shop,
and she makes the first and last lithograph in her life.
She painted on the litho, on the stone.
She painted like a fresco from one corner to the diagonal corner,
and here we have Frida Kahlo split in half.
One half of her we see the foetus.
We see cell division.
In utero you also see a foetus,
and there are different ages, so it's the story, the biography.
You see when she tried to abort the child
and then the age he would have been at the time of the miscarriage,
but that's the part of her that was not productive;
that she couldn't reproduce.
The other part of her,
there is a lot of the fertility of nature,
with a lot of shapes that echo the foetus,
but then she grows a third arm
and in her hand she holds the palette.
It's the same palette that Diego Rivera held before.
So a failed mother, no longer a wife,
she's on her own without him,
she holds the palette and it's the birth of an artist.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera returned to Mexico.
She hated Detroit.
He was furious at Frida for having made him go back.
They moved back, not into Coyoacn,
but back into some houses
that Juan O'Gormen a modern architect had built for them in San Angel.
These were two attached houses,
one for him and one for her,
with a bridge upstairs leading between the two.
When Frida was mad at Diego she could just close the door.
He would have to plead with her to let him across on that bridge.
It was a bad time for both of them,
and Diego Rivera took it out on Frida Kahlo
and he had an affair with her younger sister Cristina,
who was just a year younger than Frida
and was the person closest to Frida in the world.
They adored each other.
This was really hurtful so they separated.
It was to be the first of many separations in their relationship.
"You know better than anyone what Diego means to me.
She was the sister whom I loved the most
and whom I tried to help as much as I could,
that's why the situation became horribly complicated."
Depression gripped Kahlo,
who was hospitalised for an abortion and yet more bone surgery.
"It is getting worse every day.
I have been so sick that I could only paint after I left the hospital,
although without enthusiasm
and without getting anything out of my work either.
I have no friends here.
I am completely alone.
I trusted Diego would change but now I see that is impossible.
He wants total freedom.
He lives a full life without the emptiness of mine.
I have nothing because I don't have him."
She took an apartment in Mexico City for a period of time
and she stopped wearing her Tehuana dress.
She started wearing European clothes and she cut off her hair.
When she was being two-timed by Rivera her paintings got a lot bloodier.
She painted A Few Small Nips and it is one of her bloodiest paintings.
If you look closely, you'll see little places
where she stabbed the top of the frame.
That painting shows
probably a prostitute being stabbed by her boyfriend.
This comes from a newspaper article.
The man, according to the newspaper article, said,
"But I only gave her a few small nips."
She said that she had to paint it
because she herself felt murdered by life.
Kahlo found solace in drink and lovers.
"I drank because I wanted to drown my sorrows
but the bastards have learnt to swim.
And now decency and good behaviour weary me."
Following a number of love affairs of her own,
Kahlo eventually reconciled with Rivera.
Their commitment to communism remained strong,
leading them to provide a sanctuary
to the exiled Marxist leader Leon Trotsky at the Blue House in 1937.
This arrangement also led to a secret and brief affair
between Kahlo and the Russian revolutionary.
They made light of each other's love affairs.
He thought it was perfectly permissible for him
to have as many affairs as he wanted.
He didn't totally approve of Frida Kahlo having affairs.
He didn't mind the affairs that she had with women.
But he minded the ones that she had with men and he said,
"I don't want to share my toothbrush with anybody."
My Nurse and I can be interpreted biographically,
culturally, socially and politically.
Kahlo said that when she was eleven months old
her sister Cristina was born
and her mother couldn't nurse them all.
So they sent her to a nana, to an indigenous wet nurse.
Her sister displaces her in her mother's breasts, in her mother's arms.
She's probably referencing
Diego Rivera's affair with her sister Cristina.
She says, "I always had to share love."
I think My nurse and I shows how meticulous she was
She learned this from her father
because she helped him retouch photographs
he took in his studio
We see the details
the carefully applied brushstrokes
They are not passionate or messy brushstrokes
Seldom do we see that in her art
It's always very small
very cared for, very detailed
We have to remember she was bedridden for long periods
both at home and in hospital
She had all the time in the world to paint these pictures.
Any Mexican looking at that painting,
they might not know anything about Frida Kahlo's biography
but they're going to know what the iconographic reference is.
Because that is a Madonna and child
and who is in the figure of Jesus Christ?
Frida Kahlo.
That is shocking too; to depict herself as the saviour.
Had an artist ever done that before?
And then the maternal source
is not the Virgin Mary of the Western Judeo-Christian heritage,
it is an indigenous woman, bare-breasted,
wearing an Olmec mask -
and the Olmecs are the mother culture of Mesoamerica.
Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera collected pre-Colombian art.
And both of them use pre-Colombian art in their paintings.
It's part of the whole thing of Mexicanidad,
of identifying with the Indian past of Mexico.
Pre-Hispanic art was present in Diego and Frida's house
Rivera was a visionary in the rescuing of pre-Hispanic art
People in Mexico didn't consider them important
But Rivera said "No, this is part of our culture...
...we have to recover this, we have to promote it...
...we have to conserve it."
Diego was passionate about this
These elements such as the pre-Hispanic pieces
gradually entered Frida's work
My Nurse and I was not only Frida's favourite painting
it was also Diego Rivera's
It's a very interesting picture
Very stark.
In April 1938 Andr Breton
founder of the Surrealist movement in France
came to Mexico to give lectures.
He became fascinated with Kahlo.
"My surprise and joy were unbounded
when I discovered, on my arrival in Mexico,
that her work had blossomed forth
in her latest paintings in to pure surreality."
Andr Breton.
"They thought I was a Surrealist but I wasn't,
I never painted dreams.
I painted my own reality.
I have never followed any school or anyone's influence.
I don't expect anything from my work
but the satisfaction that I gain from expressing
what I could not otherwise put into words."
When Andr Breton met Frida Kahlo
and saw the painting What the Water Gave Me
he labelled it as a Surrealist painting
When Surrealism began in 1920
when the first manifesto was published
following Freud's theories very closely
Freud said that there were four paths to projecting the unconscious
drug use
delirium caused by an illness or a fever
and through art
The Surrealists wanted to combine the realms of dreaming and art
For example Andr Breton when he was going to bed
would put a notebook nearby
He would dream
then on waking would grab the notebook
and write down what came to him
Frida said, "I don't paint my dreams...
...I'm not a Surrealist...
...I paint my memories"
Frida Kahlo's work is what we call magical realism
All of the images are real
They can all be found in the real world
All that happens is that the elements are combined
or brought together in strange situations
Each of the elements is a memory
which she is seeing as though in a delirium
while she is in the bath so you can see her feet
Her right foot is injured
The foot that was affected when she had polio as a child
The foot that will be amputated towards the end of her life
It has a fantastic effect
So it is very close to Surrealism
but, as she said,
it's not surrealist.
Kahlo is a beautiful painter.
For somebody without a formal artistic education
she develops a real facility for handling the medium.
She painted as if she were painting a miniature mural.
She would sketch out the composition
and then she would start in one corner
and sort of paint by numbers, work her way across.
Then apparently she would paint with very, very fine brushes.
If you look at them closely
the surface is so beautifully finished
and it's tiny, tiny little brush marks.
She always had her brushes in a very, very specific order.
She kept them very neat. She loved sable brushes.
When she was at her prime you see the brushstrokes
but very, very delicate little brushstrokes.
People didn't understand how deliberate
and not instantaneous or spontaneous she was.
"I was feeling as lousy as hell when your letter arrived,
I've been having pains in my foot all week
and I'll probably need another operation."
I haven't changed very much since you saw me last.
I wear again my crazy Mexican dress,
and I am as skinny and lazy as always,
without enthusiasm for anything.
I think it's because I am sick
but of course that is only a very good pretext.
I have painted about 12 paintings,
all small and unimportant,
with the same personal subjects that only appeal to me and nobody else.
I sent four of them to a gallery here in Mexico,
the only one that admits any kind of stuff.
Four or five people told me they were swell,
the rest think they are too crazy.
To my surprise Julien Levy wrote me a letter
saying someone had talked to him about my paintings
and he was very interested in having an exhibition in his gallery.
So I accepted and if nothing happens in the meantime
I will go to New York in September."
Frida Kahlo had only two solo exhibitions during her lifetime.
The first one was in November 1st to 15th 1938,
at the Julien Levy Gallery on 57th Street in New York City.
And she showed 25 works.
She actually was happy to have those paintings shown,
but during her lifetime they were seen as esoteric, gruesome.
Andr Breton wrote, "They're like a ribbon around a bomb."
So that explosive nature is there but so is the ribbon,
the beautiful colours, the luminous technique
so there's an attraction/repulsion there.
The Julien Levy exhibition was actually a great success.
There were a lot of wonderful celebrities there.
A lot of the people were contacts of Rivera,
the bohemian art world -
interested in her persona and her sartorial appearance
a little bit more than in her artwork.
But some people actually were interested in her artwork and there were sales.
Buoyed by the recent success of New York,
Kahlo travelled to Paris
where her work was included in an exhibition of Mexican art.
"There were lots of congratulations for the chica,
among them a big hug from Miro,
and great praises from Kandinsky;
congratulations from Picasso, Tanguy
and from other big shots of Surrealism.
I think the whole thing turned out quite well."
It was then that Frida began to sell
to commercialise her work
In the exhibition she had in the Julien Levy Gallery
she sold around 12 paintings
Paris was the turning point
in terms of her actually having a career.
She did get a lot of praise for her paintings
from all these different famous artists in France.
And the Louvre bought one of her self-portraits.
But when Kahlo got back to Mexico from France
things did not go well with Diego Rivera
and he asked her for a divorce.
Some people say it's because he realised
that she'd had an affair with Trotsky in 1937.
It caused her enormous unhappiness.
"I have no words to tell you how much I have been suffering.
And knowing how much I love Diego
you must understand that this trouble will never end in my life.
But after the last fight I had with him,
I understand that for him it is much better to leave me.
Now I feel so rotten and lonely
that it seems to me that nobody in the world
has to suffer the way I do."
In September 1939 Kahlo left the marital home in San Angel
and moved back to her childhood home in Coyoacn.
She also turned back to drink.
Health troubles plagued her.
Pains in her spine and infections in her hands.
Yet she continued to paint,
finishing her largest canvas just as she received her divorce papers.
"There have been two great accidents in my life.
One was the tram...
the other was Diego.
Diego was by far the worst."
The theme of this painting is her separation from Diego Rivera
of their divorce on November 8th 1939
The Frida dressed as a Tehuana
is the Frida who loved Diego Rivera
Diego is the one who asked her
to wear outfits from different regions of Mexico
This Frida is holding a cameo with the image of Diego Rivera
From the cameo emerges a vein
which runs through the heart of Frida in love
of the Frida who loves Diego
to the Frida with a broken heart
And after the break-up
Frida is more European
with a Victorian dress that is very similar
to the one that her mother wore for her wedding in 1898
This painting was shown for the first time
in the International Exhibition of Surrealism
in Mexico in 1940
Diego Rivera also exhibited in this exhibition
So the rumour, the legend
is that Frida is taking revenge for the separation from Diego
and Frida, in revenge, decides to make a big portrait
Here there is a change in the technique
in the impact that she wanted the picture to have
The sky is inspired by El Greco's View of Toledo
Frida knew of his work through books
and from 1938 onwards
in various paintings
we start to see these gloomy skies
these skies where it's just about to rain
In The Two Fridas
the element that gives us
the feeling of the suffering that Frida Kahlo is experiencing
is the sky.
Also the veins running through the picture
are a recurring motif in Frida Kahlo's work
With the veins she always ties together
people, animals
motifs that related to her life
She recreates her experiences
She reinterprets them magically, marvellously
At the same time
there is this dreamlike aspect which has a lot to do with fantasy
It's a painting that we can associate with magical realism
Frida's picture expresses it well
If you see the skirt
you see how the surgical scissors try to cut off the blood flow
and the blood nevertheless ends up becoming the flowers
which appear on the magical part of her dress
It is not entirely like Surrealism which breaks with reality
but reality is exalted in a moment of magic
For that reason I consider it
to be the most important picture in Mexican painting
of the first half of the 20th century.
Following her divorce
Frida Kahlo began a prolific period of self-portrait painting.
Of around 150 paintings in her lifetime,
a third of them were self-portraits.
"Since my subjects have always been my sensations,
my state of mind
and the profound reactions that life has been producing in me,
I have frequently objectified all of this in portraits of myself,
which is the most sincere and real thing
I could do to express how I felt."
So why did Kahlo hit upon this compositional format
in the 1940s of the sort of three-quarter self-portrait?
This is a period in her life where she is more homebound.
At this point she is living at the Casa Azul now, full-time.
But she's also having increased physical problems;
more surgeries, more pain and so forth.
So that limits her possibilities in terms of physical movement,
but I also think that the three-quarter self-portrait
must pose an artistic challenge for her.
Her letters also indicate
that she is intent on supporting herself as an artist,
so that would be a format
that would be appealing to possible art buyers.
Frida Kahlo the artist who paints to earn a living,
"What does she paint?" "She paints her self-portrait,"
"Here you can have a piece of me."
She knows her own image is a powerful one
and that this powerful image will sell
and allow her to evolve.
The expression is almost always the same
Seldom do we see her head on
She's always three-quarters on
It seems she likes this angle
This is a very studied pose learned at a young age
because being the daughter of a photographer
her father taught her
how to sit
how to pose
where to direct her eyes
Frida doesn't smile
seldom does she smile, even in photographs
What changes within this series of self-portraits?
The elements around her
The braided crowns
the ribbons, the flowers
the necklaces with hair that look like roots
that extend over her body
She is surrounded by her dogs
her spider monkeys
surrounded by vegetation, butterflies
the parrots that kept her company.
She had a menagerie of animals;
she does write about her pets as if they're her children,
so it could be that they became surrogate children
so she includes them in the portraits.
There is some frustration that seems to be expressed
as the kind of emotional register, the charge of those paintings.
And, again, it is the period where
she is spending more time in Coyoacn at the Casa Azul.
She and Rivera have reconciled
but apparently have an understanding
that their relationship will be platonic.
It's also just following the period where she had been in a relationship
with the colour photographer Nickolas Muray
who was a pioneer of colour advertising photography.
He took several beautiful portraits of Frida Kahlo in colour.
If you look at some of those portraits
and you compare them to the colour photographs by Nickolas Muray
there is reason to think that she is working from photographs.
I doubt very much that she's painting from the mirror.
In fact the Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Dead Hummingbird
was a gift for Nickolas Muray
and I believe that one is based on one of the photographs that he took of her.
There's always some emotional message going on there,
so in the Muray painting it's an image of self-sacrifice,
sacrificing our passion for the stability of remarrying Diego Rivera.
So maybe that's what the thorn necklace is.
Then the dead hummingbird is an amulet of love;
dead hummingbirds are available in traditional herbal markets in Mexico
as amulets of love.
So here it is hanging right in the centre of the painting.
When you see them you feel like the artist is there with you.
You feel like you know her.
You feel like you can read the pain etched in her features
or you can see something.
She's telling you something and it's very intimate.
I think that kind of connection is what she strove for.
But when you look at them closely,
you see that they're very different,
there are subtle differences between them,
and that each one of her portraits
it's the same woman but it's not the same woman.
For me, this was a key to thinking about her constructing different identities.
She wanted to be the beautiful Botticelli woman.
She wanted to be "La Mexicana."
In another self-portrait that she dedicated to Leo Eloesser
she shows herself wearing a crown of thorns around her neck,
like a necklace - obviously alluding to Christ
but instead of having it on her head,
like a crown of thorns, she has a necklace of thorns.
And instead of her colourful garb
she wears a brown dress of a religious nun.
She shows herself as a divided creature,
part of her denying her carnal self
and part of her very sensuous.
She's wearing a hand-shaped earring, and she has flowers in her hair.
You can almost smell the flowers.
In these later self-portraits, especially from the 1940s,
she also painted herself as an androgynous creature.
She sits and she's wearing a man's suit
and you see her transforming herself into a different self.
Of course, queer identities, gender bending,
all this was not something that was shown in art during her lifetime,
at least not a lot.
But she's showing things that are very contemporary, are very relevant today.
I wanted to read you a quote by Alejandro Gmez Arias.
If you remember the very first self-portrait
that she made for Alejandro Gmez Arias
who knew her, really, throughout her life and he wrote,
"Who was Frida Kahlo?
It is not possible to find an exact answer.
So contradictory and multiple was the personality of this woman
that it may be said that many 'Fridas' existed.
Perhaps none of them was the one that she wanted to be."
Aware that her spiralling health and alcoholism
were linked to distress about Rivera,
Kahlo's friend and doctor Leo Eloesser mediated a reconciliation.
In December 1940, one year after their divorce,
Kahlo and Rivera remarried.
Rivera continued to use San Angel House as his studio
so he was there a lot.
She moved in to the Coyoacn house
which Diego Rivera had bought from her father.
And they had a very social life.
Artists from all over the world came to the Blue House
because it was a place of bohemia
art, culture
intellectual conversations
Frida wanted to connect with people
She wanted to be loved.
She loved fiestas, she adored to dress up
and they had parties and drank a lot of tequila,
I mean she drank a lot of tequila.
"The remarriage functions well,
a small quantity of quarrels,
better mutual understanding on my part
and fewer investigations of the tedious kind
with respect to other women.
I have learnt that life is this way.
If I felt better health-wise...
I would say I am happy."
During the '40s she had a number of surgical operations.
I've always thought that she had a little bit of Munchausen Syndrome
and just wanted to have operations in order to get attention from Rivera,
and from everybody.
She wanted to be focused on
and having an operation is a good way to get focused on.
But she also painted the pain that resulted from these operations
and from having to have orthopaedic corsets,
which she said were a complete misery for her.
In The Broken Column
Frida shows us her bravery when facing pain
It's a self-portrait where on the one hand
she shows the pain represented by the nails all over her body
The spine completely fragmented, cracked
But it's not represented as a backbone
rather as an Ionic classical column used in construction
which should give support but seems not to
even though the top of the column supports the chin
This is where we see Frida's bravery when facing this pain
because even when her face is full of tears
her attitude towards the viewer is defiant
She doesn't cry with a pained expression
Tears come from her eyes, roll down her face
but the expression is not one of suffering
It's almost a challenge to the viewer
She paints these desert landscapes fragmented, cracked
that give us a sense of desperation
like there is nothing more
The colours are also important
In this case the horizon is green
Green for Frida is hope
So even though we see her in great pain
and imagine that the most important thing is the pain
at the same time Frida tells us that
behind this pain there is great hope.
Why did Frida use her body so much?
Her broken spine, for example?
It was precisely at that time when
she was advised to use the steel corsets
which must have been dreadful
So the body is sublimated
It's not sexualised in Kahlo's work
So that's the point
We think of our bodies when our bodies hurt
Otherwise not at all.
What I find interesting
is how this physically fractured woman
tormented by her body
by her obsession of not being able to become pregnant
and with all that, she paints
How she overcomes and mitigates her pain
and her physical condition through her painting
So when she paints obvious things
like The Broken Column
she does it with great devotion
like an escape
searching for the beauty
that she can't find in her physical being.
Frida Kahlo painted and drew in her diary
in the last ten years of her life.
The diary drawings and self-portraits
are very fluid, very sketchy, kind of wild and very surreal.
Which is interesting because all of her oil portraits were so precise.
It was also a place where she could write about her need for Rivera.
She talks about her love for him.
She also talks about politics.
Yes, it describes her deepest thoughts
her intellectual concerns
but it is a work of art
It is a representation of her because she was visual
It's very intimate
She didn't think that anyone was going to see it
She is making connections while also writing poetry
and reflecting her influences
The diary is how she understands herself
Above all it demonstrates the complexity
but also the big ideas and originality of Frida
There is such a beautiful phrase that describes her house, her life
"The whole universe, the world, Mexico"
The Blue House is the intimate world of Frida Kahlo
its colours, its cuisine
its Mexican aromas, its vegetation
It is a microcosm of Mexico.
While Kahlo became increasingly imprisoned
by her disabilities,
Rivera continued to use his freedom
to have very public affairs with film stars and celebrities.
As her physical world diminished
Kahlo created ever more complex worlds on her canvases.
The dominant theme remained her love for Diego.
The Love Embrace of the Universe, the Earth (Mexico),
Diego, and Me, and Mr Xolotl.
It kind of describes what you see there.
The general composition is the yin and yang.
You have a division of Earth and sky,
male and female,
and you have the Sun and the Moon.
And the Sun is the colours of the night sky,
and the Moon is the colours of the daylight sky,
so it's about balance.
It's very much impacted and influenced
by Hinduism and Daoism and Buddhism,
so at that time she is very immersed in this idea of the yin-yang.
It's infused by autobiographical elements,
by pre-Hispanic mythologies,
Christian imagery and Hindu symbolism.
Altogether it creates this concept of a series of embraces.
One of the quotes that I love from her is where she says,
"Love is the basis of all life,"
It is a kind of desire for life, even though there is some pain there.
The Christian element is very clear
because it looks like the Madonna and Child and Saint Anne,
and she knew that.
The Earth goddess, if you will, the Earth is very Mexican.
She has cacti as her hair
and you see the vegetation is very much Mexican.
She also has a cracked-open breast, with milk coming out,
and she embraces Frida Kahlo who is a beautiful Tehuana woman
but also with a wound or a pain.
Frida Kahlo holds Diego Rivera as a baby in her hands.
What's really interesting is that he has a third eye -
again her interest in Shiva and Hindu symbolism.
He holds a flame near his loins,
which is the lingam, which is his phallus, if you will.
They're also Shiva and Parvati, the Godhead,
the man and the woman that are part of Hinduism.
Of course, after she could not be his wife
and could not bear his child,
their relationship kind of morphed into
them babying each other and being together.
The last is Mr Xolotl.
Xolotl is the Nahuatl dog-shaped god,
a deity that guards the underworld.
So you have love and death.
You have night and day.
You have Moon and Sun.
You have female and male,
all the opposites coming together in this series of embraces.
Kahlo underwent an increasing number of surgeries
including an unsuccessful bone graft operation on her back.
She spent most of 1950 in hospital,
becoming addicted to morphine.
She was taking a tremendous amount of drugs
towards the end of her life.
Demerol seemed to be her favourite one.
And she lacked control a lot of the time.
When she painted she could only paint for a short while,
tied into her wheelchair.
She was supported, I think, by tying herself to the back.
In 1951 she painted a portrait of Dr Farill,
who was her orthopaedic doctor.
And there she holds the third palette that she ever painted,
which is shaped like her heart.
So we had three palettes in her oeuvre.
We had the first one, 1931, Diego Rivera holds it.
He is the painter; she is his little demure Mexican wife.
Then, after she loses her hope of being a mother,
she grows a third arm and she is born an artist.
Then in 1951, just three years before her death,
she holds a palette that is a heart.
Her paintbrushes are dripping with blood.
Kahlo's first and last solo exhibition
in her home country took place in April 1953.
Aware that she was deteriorating,
Diego Rivera and some of Kahlo's friends organised an exhibition of her work.
Kahlo was too ill to be moved from her bed.
As per her doctor's orders she stayed there,
but had the bed moved from her house to the gallery for the opening night.
Her arrival delighted friends and journalists
who had gathered in the gallery
and the exhibition was a resounding success.
Frida Kahlo died at the Casa Azul on the 13th of July 1954.
She was 47.
"I am always afraid that I will get tired of painting.
But this is the truth; I am still passionate about it.
Painting completed my life.
I lost three children and a series of other things
that would have fulfilled my horrible life,
but my painting took place of all of this.
Frida painted her life,
her pain, her political attitude.
I don't think she would have ever liked to be caged into a style.
She's going to be very important in the history of painting
for being this free spirit that was not blocked into a period of painting
or a form of painting or being in vogue.
Her work transcends time.
I can only think of Rembrandt and Van Gogh
whose self-portraiture moves beyond being a portrait of themselves
and moves on to being a portrait of the human condition.
She provides a visual vocabulary
where pain, trauma, human emotions becomes communicable.
The paintings she painted that deal with issues like
the female body and disability and gender fluidity and identity;
those are the things that interest people in 2020
but she already dealt with them in such a deep way during her lifetime.
I think that Kahlo is very important for the story of Mexican art.
She is, in many ways, a unique artist.
Her reputation has stood the test of time,
for reasons that make sense
and for some that are about popular celebrity that are problematic.
There may be at different moments resentments about Fridamania,
this idolising and deification of Frida Kahlo
in a way that obscures her art.
She's given me strength to overcome my fear of painting
To have the courage to paint without fear, without censorship
That is the courage I took from Frida
To believe in art there aren't any rules
In art there isn't any censorship
You make your own freedom
Because when there is censorship
you might as well not paint anything.