Was the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) A Surrealism Artist?

The Wounded or Little Deer El Vendao Herico by Frida Kahlo (1946)

What Type of Artist was Frida Kahlo?

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s premier artists. But yet there is always confusion as to exactly what type of artist she actually was.

Frida Kahlo had a life that was filled with pain and suffering. She painted her pain and suffering on canvas. Andre Breton, head of the Surrealism movement mistakenly labeled Friday Kahlo as a Surrealism Artist. Frida Kahlo never considered her art to be Surrealism Art.

Henry Ford Hospital or the Flying Bed by Frida Kahlo (1932)
Henry Ford Hospital or the Flying Bed by Frida Kahlo (1932)

Who Was the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)?

To really understand what kind of artist Frida Kahlo was, you first need to understand who she was. The nature of her art is very personal.

Frida Kahlo suffered from polio at a young age and was in a terrible bus accident when she was 18 years old. This accident left her in a lot of pain.

Kahlo married the famous Mexican artist mural artist Diego Riveria. Frida is well known for her self-portraits that depict pain and suffering. Her paintings are filled with passion and symbolism. She used bright bold vibrant colors. Her art is essentially a personal statement of her life.

To find out more about Frida Kahlo, you can read our blog on Who Was the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)? by clicking here.

Was Frida Kahlo a Surrealist Artist?

One of the major quesiton that most people ask is if Frida Kahlo was a Surrealist artist? The definition of a surrealist artist is:

“a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions, etc.”

dictionary.com

Surrealism art was a cultural movement that developed in Europe after World War 1. It was influenced mainly by the art movement of Dada or Dadaism. Dadaism was an avant-garde movement in the early 20th Century and was in reaction to World War I. The Dada artist rejected logic, reason, and the aestheticism of the modern capitalist society. It was an art movement that was anti-bourgeois in nature.

In Surrealism art, the artist will paint unnerving, illogical scenes, including strange creatures from everyday objects or animals. The idea was to allow the unconscious or dreams to express itself through art.

Andre Breton and Frida Kahlo

The leader of the Surrealism art movement was the French writer and poet Andre’ Breton. Andre’ Breton wrote the first Surrealist Manifesto where he defined Surrealism as “pure psychic automatism.”

In 1938 Andre’ Breton arrived in Mexico. The purpose of his trip was to find surrealism in Mexico and to meet with Leon Troksy the Soviet revolutionary and Marxist theorist. At the time Troksy and his wife were living in Mexico City.  

In meeting Trotsky, Andre’ Breton would have of course also met and known about Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. He saw Frida’s unfinished painting of “What the Water Gave Me” which was a self-portrait of how Frida Kahlo saw her life and suffering.

Breton immediately labeled Frida’s art as part of the Surrealism movement of art. He wrote an essay about her called “a strip of silk around a pump.” He also arranges for Frida to show her work in a solo exhibition in New York City and also a few other minor exhibitions.

The Two Fridas, Las Dos Frida Kahlo, by Frida Kahlo (1939)
The Two Fridas, Las Dos Frida by Frida Kahlo (1939)

Frida Kahlo Was Mistakenly Labeled a Surrealism Artist

It was Andre’ Breton who labeled her work as Surrealism art. Many, including Frida herself, consider this label of Surrealism for her work to be a mistake. Frida Kahlo said:

“… they thought I was surrealist, but I was not. I never painted my dreams, I only painted my own reality.”

Frida Kahlo

This is where the great confusion comes and so many are asking what kind or type of painter is Frida Kahlo? Is Frida Kahlo really a Surrealist painter? Many, even Andre’ Breton the head of the Surrealism movement, considered Frida Kahlo a Surrealist painter though Frida Kahlo did not considered herself or her paintings a part of the Surrealism movement or ideology.

This reason why Frida did not call her work as Surrealism is that she felt she was painting her own pain and reality. The essence of this is that she painted for herself – as she painted her pain and suffering – she was painting for us her own reality. It was her life story she was painting on canvas. It is this life story that continues to draw us to her art and her as an artist. We experience her life through her works of art.

In speaking of Surrealism and her painting, Frida Kahlo went on to say:

“Really, I do not know whether my paintings are surrealist or not, but I do know that they are the frankest expression of myself.”

Frida Kahlo
Self-portrait as a Tehuna or Diego On My Mind by Frida Kahlo (1943)
Self-portrait as a Tehuana or Diego On My Mind by Frida Kahlo (1943)

Is Frida Kahlo a Surrealist Or A Realist?

Is Frida Kahlo’s art Surrealism or is the art realist? Even Andre’ Breton, head of the Surrealism movement embraced her as part of the movement through Frida never considered herself a Surrealist.

This is why many will label her work as Mexican Surrealism and they will put her work together with other Mexican Artists that were considered to do some Surrealism work as her husband Diego Rivera or Gunther Gerzso.

In 1945, Don Jose Domingo Lavin asked Frida to read a book by Sigmund Freud called Moses and Monotheism. In this final book that Freud wrote, Freud is re-writing or re-telling the biblical story of Moses. Freud’s psychoanalysis work was based on Surrealism.

Frida did paint a painting called Moses that received a 2nd place prize in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This work was based on Freud’s work and the story of Moses. Frida painted her understanding of Freud’s Surrealism book.

In keeping true to what Frida Kahlo the artist herself has said, and to respect her and her work, we do not label her work as Surrealism. Instead, we say her work is a realist as it is based on the reality of her own life, though many art galleries and others will label her work as Surrealism.

But in any case, the beauty of her work and what makes her artwork so very powerful and important is that through her artwork we can get a glimpse into her life, pain, and suffering. 

Though the artwork style of Frida Kahlo is often labeled as a Surrealism or a Mexican Surrealism, Frida Kahlo never considered her work to be a work of Surrealism but instead to be her own reality. Though many label Frida Kahlo’s work as Surrealism, Frida Kahlo’s artwork can be call realist as it is based on Frida Kahlo’s life and reality.

Related Questions

Who Was the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)?

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s premier artists. She suffered from polio and was in a bus accident when she was 18 years old that left her in a lot of pain. Kahlo married the famous Mexican mural artist Diego Rivera. She is well known for her self-portraits that depict her pain and suffering, but are also filled with passion and bright bold vibrant colors. Her art is a personal statement of her life, paint, and culture.

To discover more about Frida Kahlo you can read our blog on Who Was the Mexican Artist Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)? by clicking here.

Who is the Swedish Artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944)?

Hilma af Klint was a female Swedish artist who was painting revolutionary modern artwork for her time. She was a trailblazing, creative figure who kept her art and paintings secret for many years. Despite her amazing works of art and legacy she left us, it has only been during the last 40 years that Hilma af Klint has started to gain international acclaim.

You can discover more about Hilma af Klint by reading our blog Who is the Swedish Artist Hilma af Klint (1862-1944)? by clicking here.

Anita Louise Hummel

Hi, I am Anita Louise Hummel. I am an artist and a blogger. I paint mainly oil paints. I love to paint women, animals (mainly dogs and cats), and abstracts. I use a lot of gold and silver leaf in my paintings. I also love to blog about anything to do with art, business, Procreate, and all the wonderful artists that inspire me.

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