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.
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
It takes a lot of effort to be vibrant.—Tom Stoppard
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.
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:
Have a wonderful week, everyone!