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If there is one female artist who has changed the history of 20th century art all over the world, it is Frida Kahlo. An artist tied to the traditions and culture of her home country, Mexico. But who has made art his obsession. His passion and his life tell of his restless soul and his anxieties. Frida above all tells the reality that surrounds her. I am Clelia and today we discover the most painful self-portrait in the history of art: Hopeless by Frida Kahlo.

Frida Kahlo’s self-portraits

There aren’t many artists who, like Frida, are so obsessed with their image. More than a third of his 150 famous paintings are self-portraits. Some simple sketches, others much more complex and surprising works. But many are like a personal account of the physical and emotional pain of Frida’s life. In addition to being known for her personality, Frida’s face is known for the self-portraits she has made since her early years. Due to some unfortunate events she is forced to stay in bed and paint.

In 1914, his parents and family doctor think he contracted poliomyelitis but it is later discovered that he suffers from a deformation of the vertebrae which attacks and damages his right leg. It is not the only tragedy in her life that changes her physically. While she was still a student in 1925 she was the victim of a road accident on a bus which forced her to stay in bed for many years in a cast due to numerous fractures. She thus decided to ask her family for brushes and canvases and a mirror and begins to represent herself and the world around her with an attention to detail and emotional strength that are recognizable in all her works.

She is a woman who suffers physically but also internally and therefore begins to explore her emotional states.

Hopeless by Frida Kahlo | Description

Hopeless shows Frida forced to sleep in a harsh and barren landscape. And above her only a horrible cornucopia, a real funnel with meat, fish, vegetables and a skull. At the time she painted Hopeless, lack of appetite has caused such severe weight loss that Frida has to be fed through a funnel. 

But in the painting, the funnel is transformed into a monstrous being, so large it must be supported on a sturdy wooden ladder – and it is filled not with pureed food but with whole chunks of meat and fish. 

On the back of the work, Frida leaves a phrase that gives the work its title

I don’t have the slightest hope left … Everything moves in harmony with what the belly contains

Frida Kahlo

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera | The love story

Even though her work received numerous appreciations over time, Frida was overshadowed in life by her husband, the artist Diego Rivera. A huge man with an incredible personality. While Frida’s paintings are usually small and intimate, Rivera’s are gigantic: she specializes in large murals for public buildings, one of the techniques for which 20th-century Mexican art has become famous. And Rivera is the most famous of three muralists. The other two are Orozco and Siqueiros. All of them are funded by the President of Mexico who initiates a mural painting program from 1920 to 1924. After a violently unstable historical period, the paintings in fact aim to help create a feeling of national identity among a population that is still largely part illiterate.

But Frida in all of this is known because of her colorful, intense and often heartbreaking self-portraits, like Without Hope we’re talking about today.

Hopeless by Frida Kahlo | Details

Frida’s face

opera Frida turns towards us with a look of pain, while tears flow down her cheeks. Only the head and shoulders come out of the white sheets. This helps to convey a sense of constraint and to tell us what really happens in reality. In fact, in this period Frida is forced to spend a lot of time lying in bed wearing an orthopedic corset that squeezes her very much. And in his entire life he undergoes more than 30 operations. 

The food in the funnel

Above her the funnel to be fed is held by a gigantic ladder. And it is so full that it could not be done otherwise. Inside there is an almost nauseating mixture of meat, fish and cauliflower. Frida probably gets the idea of ​​the funnel as an instrument of torture from a book in her family library which tells of the tortures of the Spanish Inquisition. The funnel was in fact used for water torture.

The skull

But there is also another element that immediately attracts attention. On top of the pile of food is a sugar skull engraved with Frida’s name. 

If you’ve seen the Disney film Coco you know that skulls figure prominently in Mexico’s annual Day of the Dead celebrations: November 2nd. This holiday, which mixes some elements of Aztec culture with Christian elements, is an occasion for Mexicans to honor friends and relatives who have died. And the skull thus becomes an allusion to death, but it is made of sugar to represent the sweetness of life.

The background of the work

The whole work seems surreal for other reasons as well. Frida is lying on her bed but not in her bedroom. In fact, the scene is set in a blue landscape that resembles a desert at night. This idea of ​​aridity has been associated with Frida’s inability to have children. In fact, the injuries sustained at the age of 18 made it impossible for him. And the theme is also present in other works. For example, after suffering a traumatic miscarriage at 25 Frida paints Henry Ford Hospital, in which she is lying in a hospital bed on blood-soaked sheets.

The pattern of the sheets

This theme also returns to the sheets of the bed in which Frida is wrapped. The circular shapes are thought to be unfertilized cells or eggs. But they can also be connected to two other elements of the work: the sun and the moon.

The moons and the sun

Both have been interpreted in different ways. For example, to indicate the fact that Frida’s physical pain does not stop day or night. Or the moon has been seen as a symbol of the fragile figure of Frida herself who lives on the light reflected by the great sun. And the sun could therefore be an allusion to her husband Diego Rivera, a man of great vigor and fame. Frida is very fond of pre-Columbian Mexican culture and in this the adoration of the sun has a primary role. The sun therefore sometimes appears in Frida’s paintings as a symbol of vital energy. But in this specific case the sun can also be a reference to the orange candles, the flowers spread during the celebration of the Day of the Dead in Mexico.

Frida Kahlo’s painting technique

Frida Kahlo is ultimately self-taught and her working methods and techniques reflect the unusual circumstances of her life. He began painting in earnest while recovering at home from his 1925 accident. His special easel was attached to his four-poster bed and an overhead mirror was installed. So she can see herself lying down and act as her own personal model without having to ask anyone else for help. 

Technically, the brushwork in most of his works is quick and delicate. Until it changes in the last few years when she is hit by alcoholism and becomes more incisive and strong. 

Frida Kahlo’s success

Frida spends most of her life in Mexico City. Here she suffered an accident but also began to paint and in 1929 she married Diego Rivera. Their love story is full of ups and downs. They divorced in 1939 due to Diego’s many cheating, but remarried in 1940. They lived in two separate houses so as not to influence each other’s work. But above all they are united by two passions: art and politics. In fact, both are militant communists. 

Only around 1980, about 2 years after her death, Frida surpasses Diego and begins to become more and more famous even outside Mexico, becoming today’s feminist hero. She is appreciated not only for the strength and originality of her works but also for the ability to have created works that so intensely tell of her suffering and pain. 

And in 2007 the most important anthological exhibition ever organized with his works was organized in Mexico City for the bicentenary of his birth. And the show attracts over 360,000 visitors in just two months.

Frida Kahlo trivia

If you’ve come this far, welcome to the #arteclub for all art enthusiasts who want to find out more about the work or artist of the day.

The biography of Frida which was published in 1983 by the American critic Hayden Herrera was the first major book about her written in English and played a vital role in establishing the artist’s reputation. But above all it formed the basis for the 2002 biopic Frida with Salma Hayek in the role of Frida Kahlo. 

But this is not the only film in which Frida and Mexican culture play a key role. In fact, in 2017 Disney Pixar produced one of its best animated films of recent years: Coco. is the story of a musician boy Miguel who wants to discover the origins of his family and the identity of his great great grandfather. So on the Day of the Dead he manages to sneak into the afterlife and overcoming a thousand obstacles to find out more. And among the various characters he meets there is also Frida Kahlo with whom he even exchanges some jokes about art. 

Frida Kahlo’s Barbie

And Frida’s image has entered our culture so much that today we find her on all kinds of gadgets and her traditional Mexican way of dressing has made her a style icon. There is also a Barbie Frida, from which a quite famous scandal arose. Mattel, which is the company that makes the Barbies, was accused by the artist’s family of using the image without requesting the rights. 

Barbie has been featured in a series about women who have inspired our culture and who can be role models, and she’s not the first art-themed Barbie to have been made. However, what Frida’s family disputes is the message that is being sent. In fact, the problem is not the fact that Barbie has in the past been associated with a form of superficial and mass culture completely distant from Frida’s political and social ideas. But the real issue is in the stereotyped and untruthful representation that Mattel has created. The artist’s family proposes changes in some details of the Barbie that would allow us to have an image closer to reality and to the photos or self-portraits that we have left of Frida.

Hopeless by Frida Kahlo | Conclusions After

all, the self-portraits such as Without hope that we talked about today are famous paintings for the representation of human pain and the real emotion that Frida felt and certainly remain among the masterpieces of the history of 20th century art. And if you liked this post, I suggest you also take a look at my post I made a while ago on the love story between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera or the more recent one on 10 films dedicated to artists

Thanks and see you next time! 

Cover: Frida Kahlo, Without Hope, 1945, 28 cm x 36 cm, oil on canvas, Museo Dolores Olmedo, Mexico City.

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