Edit ModuleShow Tags

Frida and Diego


In her words, it was “the union of the elephant and the dove”—Diego Rivera, an enormous man with an extroverted personality, and Frida Kahlo, slight, sensitive, frequently ailing. These famous artists are featured in an exhibition at La Jolla’s Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, May 14 to September 4, titled “Twentieth-Century Mexican Art: The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection.”

Frida painted as a catharsis for pain, frequently working from a prone position in her bed. She had an accident in her teens that left her with multiple injuries. “I suffered two accidents in my life,” she wrote, “one in which a streetcar knocked me down ... the other accident is Diego.”

Kahlo met Diego Rivera as he was standing on a scaffolding, painting a mural. “Diego, come down,” she demanded. “Look, I have not come to flirt or anything, even if you are a woman chaser. I have come to show you my painting. If you are interested in it, tell me; if not, likewise, so that I will go to work at something else.”

Rivera’s memory of the incident is almost identical ... without the “woman chaser” part.

So the great man docilely lumbered down from the scaffolding to look at the three paintings this young woman, less than half his age, was holding. He agreed to visit her home the following Sunday to see other samples. When he arrived, he said later, “I heard someone over my head, whistling ‘The Internationale.’ In the top of a high tree, I saw Frida in overalls.”

This was the beginning of a stormy relationship about which Frida’s father warned Diego: “She is a sick person, and all her life she will be sick; she is intelligent, but not pretty. Think it over.”

Diego didn’t have to think it over; he and Frida were married in ’29, divorced in ’39, remarried in ’40. It was a stormy relationship. Kahlo gave fabulous parties in their famous “Blue House” (now a museum), noted for unrestricted tequila and off-color songs. She painted tortured pictures that expressed her sadness in life and marriage. She attempted suicide several times, especially after the amputation of her right leg. “I drank to drown my pain,” said Kahlo, “but the damned pain learned to swim.” Rivera called Kahlo’s work “agonized poetry on canvas.”

A precocious painter from childhood, Rivera entered the Academy of San Carlos, the major fine arts school in Mexico, at the age of 11 (normal entry age was 16). He won a scholarship to Europe in 1907 and remained in Spain and France until the 1920s, when he was given a government-related position to create murals in Mexico. Rivera described himself at this time as “6 feet tall and weighing 300 pounds. But I was a dynamo of energy.”

An eyewitness reported: “All day he works. He has worn out a squad or two of masons, several assistants, hundreds of observers, scores of friends ... Often I have seen him, after a day’s work was done, lose his temper at the result and tell his assistants, ‘Clean it all off and put on fresh plaster! I’ll be back tomorrow morning at 6!’” (Bertram Wolfe, The Fabulous Life of Diego Rivera).

Rivera took his noon meals on the scaffolding, even slept there. (Once while napping, he fell off.) His forte was entertaining onlookers with outrageous stories of his life. At one time (in New York), it was possible to purchase tickets to watch Rivera paint.

In many ways, Rivera’s murals were a criticism of the government that paid for them. The conservative press in Mexico referred to his murals as examples of fiesmo (uglism), but revolutionaries liked their proletarian focus. Rivera was a member of the Mexican communist party during the 1920s, yet he was always a maverick who refused to blindly follow the party line. He was publicly thrown out of the party in 1929.

In the 1930s, Rivera was invited to paint murals in San Francisco, Detroit and at the RCA building in New York City. In New York, he refused a request to replace the face of Lenin, so he was fired, the mural was covered over and eventually chipped off. Even in Mexico, some of his work was scorned: A mural entitled God Does Not Exist was similarly rejected.

The Detroit News reported on the famous couple this way: “Wife of the Master Mural Painter Gleefully Dabbles in Works of Art.” Frida, who must have been stung by the article, responded: “He does pretty well for a little boy, but it is I who am the big artist.”

She might have been right.

Kahlo painted her own portrait over and over again. “I paint myself because I am so often alone. Because I am the subject I know best,” she said. Her thick, connecting eyebrows and somewhat unfeminine mustache became trademarks of her bizarre paintings. At the suggestion of Rivera, Kahlo painted herself in every imaginable Mexican costume—a series of icons to her culture.

Neither Kahlo nor Rivera viewed their domesticity in a traditional way. She is rumored to have had an affair with Leon Trotsky (among others), and Rivera was a notorious womanizer. “I let him play matrimony with other women,” she said.

In Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo by Hayden Herrera, the author relates a story about Kahlo that has become legendary. Kahlo came to her only Mexican art exhibition in an ambulance. She lay on a four-poster bed in the middle of the gallery, drinking and singing. The last entry in her diary concerned her imminent death. “I hope the leaving is joyful, and I hope never to return.”
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

More »Related Stories

San Diego's Best New Restaurants 2015

From upscale modern Mexican to a hole-in-the-wall Thai spot, food critic Troy Johnson reveals his 10 favorite new eateries of 2015

The Beer Lover's (Ice) Bucket List

Need a New Year's resolution? Further your beer education by trying these 15 must-drink brews

Architecture: Modern Wonder

Inside Rob Quigley and Kathleen Hallahan’s award-winning East Village domicile
Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Most Popular

  1. Dear Chargers, It's Over
    A pre-emptive breakup letter to the team we love
  2. Healthcare Goes High-Tech
    Dr. Eric Topol is putting health care in the palms of our hands
  3. Be Seen This Fall in Rancho Mirage
    Enter To Win a 2 Night Stay Package at The Luxurious Westin Mission Hills Golf Resort & Spa
  4. Growing Up in San Diego
    26 memories of being a kid in America's Finest City
  5. Incoming: Liberty Public Market
    San Diego's big public market unveils three big new concepts
  6. FIRST LOOK: Duke's La Jolla
    For decades, Top of the Cove in La Jolla held one of the most iconic restaurant spots in San Diego. Now they've finally filled that space. Take an exclusive first look at Duke's La Jolla.
Edit ModuleShow Tags


October is Rideshare Month

Join the Rideshare 2015 Challenge and get there together

Go Ahead... Ask McMillin!

At McMillin Realty, we are encouraging you to bring us your real estate questions. We will answer these questions….. for free.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module
Edit Module

Connect With Us:

Edit ModuleShow Tags


Win Dinner for Two at Black&Blue Steakhouse

Win dinner for two at Black&Blue Steakhouse and $25 in Free Slot Play at Valley View Casino

MADE IN AMERICA — Craft Icons of the 50 States

MADE IN AMERICA is the last exhibition in Mingei International Museum’s American Icons series, celebrating 100 years of folk art, craft and design from coast to coast.
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags