How did I find her? I don’t remember really. I remember seeing the movie with Salma Hayek and Alfred Molina. I remember reading her biography. But I don’t remember how I found her. Maybe she found me. I’m talking about Frida Kahlo, and how interesting—now that I’m out west—to see her face in so many different places. How amazing to see “The Suicide of Dorothy Hale” in the Phoenix Museum of Art. And how comforting to know there are plenty of tortured artists out there. Maybe a little like me.
Frida Kahlo was born in 1907, and she grew up just outside of Mexico City. She grew up bucking the social norms. In one family photo, she even dressed up as a man in full suit and tie. Perhaps to get a rise out of her mother. Perhaps because she knew that one day she would pursue the fairer sex. Or maybe it was just for laughs. Many of the laughs stopped in September of 1925, when Kahlo suffered serious injuries in a bus accident, including but not exclusive to a broken spinal column, a broken collarbone, a broken pelvis, and an iron handrail that pierced her abdomen and uterus—the cause of failed pregnancies years later.
Through all this, Kahlo learned how to paint. Many of her paintings were completed while lying down, because of the injuries sustained in the bus accident. Because of the bus accident, much of Kahlo’s life was dominated by pain. As was her work. Kahlo’s works are often characterized by their stark portrayals of pain. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings. Her painting was her form of release—from pain; from anger; and even from her on and off husband, painter Diego Rivera. A few days before Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, she wrote in her diary: “I hope the exit is joyful — and I hope never to return — Frida.”
Frida’s life has little to do with me personally. I can’t relate to much of what she went through. I know little of her politics or her marriage woes. I know little of her physical pain. Yet, as I walked through the Phoenix Museum of Art last weekend, I saw my first Frida Kahlo painting, and I started to cry. For the first time—after meeting her on the big screen and in books—she was real to me. The agony and pain of her artwork was real to me, and I couldn’t stop myself. I had to cry for Frida Kahlo.
I don’t suppose she knew the effect she would have one day. I highly doubt she expected a big Hollywood picture created in her memory. I expect she created art because she had to—because it was what she loved, and it was what made her feel better. I imagine even the terrifying images of her first miscarriage made her feel better, because at least, by painting, she could remove the images from her mind and put them out there, for people to see and perhaps, relate to.
We create because we have to. I’m a writer. I don’t have a choice. And the God’s honest truth is that half of the time, I hate being an “artist.” Half the time, I wish I could be a freakin’ banker, because at least bankers can go out, apply for a job at a bank, and work at a bank. They have stable careers and paychecks, and wow, wouldn’t that be so nice, instead of fighting tooth and nail for freelance jobs and struggling to find time every day to work on my novel?
Then, I think about Frida Kahlo. She was an artist. She was an invalid at times. She was poor at times. She was miserable at times. But she was a creator, not a banker. I don’t suppose she could have known about me—how her work and her life would eventually keep me going. But I have to thank her, because sometimes, Frida, I want to give up. But we can’t. As creators, we can’t. We have to keep creating, because when we’re dead and gone, maybe … we will inspire some kid we never met in some country far away.
I wish I’d gotten to meet Frida Kahlo. I wish I’d gotten to say “Thank you.”