WPC: Vivid Mexican Artists–Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo

For one tumultuous year, the Mexican artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo lived and worked in Detroit.   The current exhibit “Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in Detroit” at the Detroit Institute of Art (DIA) features their work during that time and reveals fascinating details about their marriage, their personalities, and their art.   As you can see in the images below, Diego and Frieda’s works are bold and dramatic and use vivid colors–which make them my top choice for this week’s photo challenge.

As you can see in Frida’s painting of their wedding, Diego was a large man.  Not surprisingly, he created artistic works on a grand scale. His murals are larger than life and depict monumental political and social themes–like capitalism and industrialization.

Source:  Google Images https://www.flickr.com/photos/profzucker/6155457899

Source: Google Images

A few of his murals are on permanent display in the Rivera Courtyard at the DIA.  Diego’s vivid splashes of color, bold designs, and larger-than-life scale dwarf the viewer and have the effect of a moving tapestry, a homage to the working man, industrialized society, and labor.
When you come across someone colorful and vibrant maybe in the present it isn’t so interesting, but, in the past, it sheds a wonderful light onto living life.–Garrett Hedlund
Diego Rivera and Admirers, DIA, Detroit.  Shot with my Canon 70D.

Diego Rivera and Admirers, DIA, Detroit. Shot with my Canon 70D.

Diego, who was a Communist, romanticized the energy in Detroit and the auto industry.  He also respected Henry Ford, who commissioned the mural.  Diego was also impressed with Ford’s assembly line process that revolutionized manufacturing and employed thousands (and later millions) of workers.
Diego Murals, Courtyard, DIA, Detroit.  Shot with my Canon 70D.

Diego Murals, Courtyard, DIA, Detroit. Shot with my Canon 70D.

It takes a lot of effort to be vibrant.Tom Stoppard

Diego Courtyard, DIA, Detroit, MI.  Shot with my Canon 70D.

Diego Courtyard, DIA, Detroit, MI. Shot with my Canon 70D.

Unlike Diego, Frida hated Detroit.  She did not share his grand, romantic notions about America and industrial progress.  Throughout her life, she insisted, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”  In her view, America was revealed through a much smaller lens and in the details of everyday life.  In this canvas below, she painted a shop window in Detroit decorated for the July 4th holiday.

Small objects in a shop window.  Painted on July 4th in Detroit.

Frida Kahlo. Small objects in a shop window. Painted on July 4th in Detroit. Source:  Google Images

Her artistic sensibility was shaped by her femininity, her respect for Mexican culture, her emotional struggles in her marriage, and her poor health.   Suffering from polio as a child and badly injured in a bus crash, Frida was often in pain.  She once said, “I paint myself because I am often alone and I am the subject I know best”.  Her work became a way of understanding herself and processing her pain.

I hope for my children, and for all Mexicans, that they can be proud to be Mexican, proud of their heritage, and proud that they have a peaceful, inclusive, vibrant country that is playing a role in the world.–Enrique Pena Nieto



When she arrived in Detroit, she was pregnant, but a few months later, she suffered through a traumatic miscarriage at Henry Ford Hospital.  At this pivotal moment, Frida abandoned her dreams of motherhood and staked her claim in the artistic world.  This took remarkable courage–especially in the 1930’s when most women were guided towards marriage and motherhood, and just as importantly, her husband was a world-renowned artist.

Much to Frida’s surprise, the public and art critics responded positively to her work.  Exhibitions brought her greater and greater fame during the rest of her life.  Sadly, though, her last years were filled with unbearable pain:  her husband’s repeated affairs with many women–including Frida’s younger sister Carolina–and her declining health. By 1947, she had one leg amputated and was confined to bed.  Death, for her, was a welcome relief, even though she was just 47 years old.

I hope you have enjoyed this glimpse into the work and lives of two remarkable artists.  The exhibit will be on display for the next month at the DIA in Detroit.

And now a question for you–have you ever articulated your artistic vision?  Is it personal and emotional like Frida’s or is it political and societal like Diego’s?  My vision is a blend of both.  I love to write about historical events that are at the intersection of the personal and political.

To learn more about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, I highly recommend these two books:

Kahlo by Andrea Kettenmann, published by Taschen.

Rivera by Andrea Kettenmann, published by Taschen.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

17 replies »

    • It really was a treat, Sally! It was worth the trip in the rain and lots of construction delays! I hope you get to see it when it travels around the country. –Patti


  1. A very powerful post Patti, you really brought them to life. And they are a great subject for the challenge. What a sad story about her life. Made me like his work a bit less when I see how he failed her in the end.


  2. Very true, Tina. I liked him less for his philandering–especially with his sister-in-law. Frida predicted that she’d be a more famous artist than him. I guess there is some justice. 🙂 –Patti


    • Yes, Maria. Very fortunate. It was a real treat and an emotional experience to stand in front of their work. It was very, very moving in very different ways. Thanks for your thoughts and I hope you get to see the exhibit when it travels around the country.–Patti


  3. How wonderful to see these works of art with the naked eye. I do love Diego’s larger-than-life paintings, although find it ironic that he was a communist who respected Henry Ford. What a tragic life Frida had. Very enjoyable post. Thanks, Patti.


  4. Thanks so much, BB. It is ironic, isn’t it, that he respected Ford. He also liked Edsel Ford, Henry’s son. Apparently, Edsel was a kinder and gentler version of his father. 🙂


  5. Thanks so much, Amy. I’m glad you enjoyed their work. It is so powerful–especially when it’s right there in front of you. The scale of their works were so different and both were equally powerful. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!–Patti


  6. That’s a great cartoon! Thanks for the link, Jackie. I really enjoyed it. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had the courage to be who we truly are? Have a great week–Patti


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