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FRIDA KAHLO, THE BRUSH OF ANGUISH

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The Colors of Life, Part 2

Upstairs, Frida's bed was often her world for long periods of time, and around it she gathered an array of necessary or attractive items. Overhead, she could see her reflected image in the canopy's mirror. Lying in bed, she could paint with the ingenious wooden easel that her mother had ordered built for her long ago. Her headboard was completely covered with photographs of people dear to her -- her sisters and father, her family grouped around her when she was a child, her niece and nephew, her close friend Pita Amor. Alongside ,hung portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Nearby were her collections of toys, pre-Hispanic pieces, and mounted butterflies. Paintbrushes, pencils, her diary, and assorted bright-hued objects completed the decoration. The room was redolent of medicines and perfume.

Frida was often heard to say, "I look like a lot of people and a few things," as if everything that made up her personal appearance was a matter of chance. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Dressing each day was an almost ceremonial affair during which she would try innumerable combinations of blouses and skirts. Her clothes were always immaculately clean and freshly ironed; she was meticulous about the appearance of her pleated petticoats, pure white and starched. She wore native Mexican costumes long after her sophisticated friends had given up this nationalistic gesture, in part for the long skirts that hid her thin leg and orthopedic shoe.

Frida's favorite costume was from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, and she twice painted herself wearing it, in Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego in My Thoughts) (1943) and Self-Portrait (1948). She confided to a journalist, however, that "there was a time long ago when I dressed like a boy, with short hair, pants, boots, and a leather vest. But when I went to see Diego, I put on a Tehuana outfit. I have never been in Tehuantepec ... but of all the Mexican costumes, it is the one I like the most."

Frida selected her jewelry each day with equal care, especially the rings she wore on the fingers of both hands. She meticulously applied her makeup and painted her fingernails, sometimes purple, green, or orange, according to what best harmonized with the day's outfit. She used to say she dressed de chango, like a monkey, for fun, in a silly and playful way. Bertram Wolfe declared that "her appearance would have seemed outlandish were it not for the artistry with which she designed and adorned herself."

Although she never approached the size of her portly mother and stout older sisters, nor even the plumpness of her younger sister, Cristina, Frida worried about maintaining her slender figure. Only a little over five feet two inches tall, she seemed taller because of the heightening effect of her long skirts, accentuated even more by her elegantly long neck and by her upswept hairdo with bows and flowers arranged on top of her head. Her olive skin was covered with a light fuzz; her upper lip had a pronounced moustache, which she made obvious in her self-portraits. The dark, heavy eyebrows that grew together across her forehead she turned into a trademark, representing them in her paintings as a bird, a swallow in flight.

When she was finally finished dressing, she looked "like a princess, like an empress," according to the descriptions most often used by her contemporaries. Scrupulously clean and heavily perfumed, 'she was as resplendent as a rainbow, ready for one more day.

Frequently she was preparing for sessions with prominent photographers from the United States and Mexico. Since childhood a subject of her father's photographs, she had a true love of the camera and its results. She posed for Edward Weston, Hector Garda, Imogen Cunningham, Manuel and Lola Alvarez Bravo, Nickolas Muray, Guillermo Zamora, Juan Guzman, and Bernice Kolko, and an endless stream of photographer-fans who came to admire and record on film her spectacular presence.

Many photographs show Frida, a heavy smoker, holding a lit cigarette. She rarely smiled when in front of a camera; the few photographs that catch her laughing reveal blackened teeth, often self-consciously hidden behind her hand.

Self-Portrait, 1941

Self-Portrait with Monkey and Parrot, 1942

Self-Portrait, 1948

Self-Portrait as a Tehuana (Diego in My Thoughts), 1943

Frida, the Casa Azul, 1941

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