Twenty years ago, in an exhibition of Mexican surrealists and before I even knew she existed, I came around a corner in the Dallas Museum of Art to be confronted by the painted autobiographies of Frida Kahlo.
It was a turning point for me in more ways than one, having proven itself to be a significant step in my decision to make art, as well as in what kind of work I would produce to this day.
“Paint what you know” is the oft-heard dictum for artists, and after a traffic accident left Kahlo, the eighteen-year-old daughter of an architectural photographer, impaled on the iron handrail of a Mexico City bus, she did just that.
Abandoning its detached, second-person study of the human condition, she traded medical schooling for self portraits in which she would turn herself inside out, saying, “I am the subject I know best.”
Even if copyright didn’t prevent me using a Frida Kahlo painting here, I think I would still hesitate to select one, her body of work in general holds such power and personal significance for me. So if a single image is what’s required, this photo better represents to me her unblinking face down of life.
Frida Kahlo, whose work surrealist André Breton called a “ribbon around a bomb”, was born on July 6, 1907. (Shown here with husband Diego Rivera. Photo by Carl Van Vechten.)