Monday, February 05, 2007

What the water gave me

When I posted Let me just lie here up on Flickr I had many comments (counting 38 now with 28 favorites!!), I was pleased, then intrigued when three or four of them said that the photo reminded them of a painting by Frida Kahlo called What water gave me, asking me if it was a tribute to her. I am sorry to say that I had never heard of Kahlo or seen any of her work, so no. However, I hunted down this artist and painting using the mighty Google:

It seems like I am not the only one inspired by my foots reflection whilst taking a long soak!! However, I think that Kahlo thought a little more about it than me with my brief Eureaka moment (although I was inspired enough to actually get out of the bath into the cold, hunt down my camera and manover carefully back into position). In What water gave me Kahlo seems to be contemplating the many symbols of her life in the water of her bathtub. Her life was eventful, marked by a long series of physical traumas which left her unable to bear children and her right leg and foot disfigured, then limp, then eventually amputated. Herself and her husband, Diego Rivera (a fellow Artist), were active communist militants. She embarked on a series of affairs with both men (including the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky) and women, and thruogh her work she constantly refered back to her Mexican routes and culture.

In the water we are presented with her mother and father, her Mexican dress, an accident with the bus, a tower from New York that is rising from a volcano, and an injured bird are reflected in the water along with the toes of her feet. The busy composition is contained by the symmetrical rounded dome of the tub. Her feet and legs anchor the painting in reality, while the fantasy is colorful and dramatic.

Although often classed as a "surrealist" Kahlo always said: "They thought I was a Surrealist, but I wasn't. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality."

I like that.


Anonymous said...

i was looking for this picture for some art homework when i came across this one. midst coping and pasting i stopped to read what you had said on her and her work.
the words you used where beautiful and i only wish it was i who wrote them first!
thanks for the picture
and your words help the homework much!!

thomas said...

used this for homework too, couldn't work out what all the different images meant. tanku

Anonymous said...

your comments really helped me in my art homework thanks:)

Anonymous said...

Well, truthfully Kahlo's "What the Water Gave Me," also called "What I Saw in the Water," is kind of a giant collaboration of many of Kahlo's most important paintings.
Briefly, The veins/arteries coming from the bathtub can be seen in Kahlo's "The Two Frida's," done in 1939. The two Kahlo’s, one being the traditional, Mexican version of Kahlo, and the other being the European-influenced Kahlo, have their hearts connected by a single artery. The European Kahlo is in danger of bleeding to death; one of her arteries has somehow been severed, and bleeds, as she holds a surgical clamp to try and stop the flow. This can be seen as how Kahlo may have felt if she remained in the United States, when she was away from Mexico. You see, Kahlo was never fond of anywhere else other than her country of Mexico, even placing her birth year as the same date as the Mexican Revolution, when in truth, she was born a few years before. It could have been symbolic of how Kahlo may have felt; if she remained in a land ruled by European and Western traditions, she would surely, slowly and painfully, die; much like how death by blood loss would feel.
Her two feet, which you described so elegantly has keeping the painting anchored to reality, have a similar “counter-part” of sorts, seen in one of Kahlo’s pages from her diary, in which two damaged legs, bound together near the ankles, and with thorns coming from where they suddenly end, just below the knee, are put on what seems to be a small, thin stand. This work was from her diary in 1953, and can be symbolic of the deformity of her right leg, which first originated when Kahlo was struck ill with Polio at age 6. It would leave her with pain her entire life, and eventually would be amputated in the early year of Kahlo’s death in 1957.
The building in the volcano, surrounded at it’s base in flame, can be taken from a pencil drawing done in 1932, titled “The Dream,” or “Self-Portrait Dreaming.” The dead bird on it’s back on top of the tree is similar to one of Hieronymus Bosch, “Garden of Delights.” The many different plants can be taken from either some of Kahlo’s self portraits, which feature a plant-ridden background (“My Nurse and I,” or “I Suckle,” 1937/ “Self Portrait with Monkey,” 1938/ “Self-Portrait with Necklace of Thorns,” 1940 / ect. They appear in many of her portraits.) supposedly, plants represented the cycle of rebirth in Kahlo’s eyes. Either that, or according to Andrea Kettenmann’s ‘Frida Kahlo Pain and Passion biography, it comes from Max Ernst’s “The Nymph Echo.”
The skeleton near the volcano can be seen in Kahlo’s “Four Inhabitants of Mexico,” done in 1938. The two nudes sitting on the sponge can be seen in Kahlo’s painting, “Two Nudes in the Forest,” done in 1939. This portion of the painting could be symbolic of the relationships that Kahlo developed with other women later on in her life, possibly as a response to several of Diego’s affairs, the most harmful of which (to Kahlo, at least) being the one that he developed with her own sister, Christina. (Kahlo did, in fact, move away from Diego into Mexico city, and then to New York with several of her female friends in response.
The portrait of her parents can be seen in her “My Grandparents, My Parents, and I,” done in 1936, and in Kahlo’s unfinished painting, “Portrait of Frida’s Family,” done around 1950 to 1954. They were based of the photograph taken in 1898 of Kahlo’s parents.
The traditional Mexican dress, in the bottom left hand corner of the painting, can be seen in Kahlo’s “Memory,” done in 1937 in response to the affair between her sister and her one true love, Diego. The dead female, with the tie bonding all of these subjects together wrapped around her throat, according again to Kettenmann’s biography, may have been inspired by “Henry Ford Hospital.” I nearly disagree however; the female does not have the characteristic, traditional eyebrow Kahlo often painted herself with, seeing it as a symbol for bird’s wings. (In truth, Kahlo didn’t actually have a unibrow. See Nicholas Murray’s colored photograph’s of Kahlo; you’ll see what I mean.) The shell just above the dead female can be taken from the painging, “Diego and Frida, 1929-1944,” done in 1944, and was symbolic of fertility; something that is also common in Kahlo’s paintings; probably in response to the fact she could not bear children as a result of an accident that resulted with a pipe going through her stomach and coming out in such a way that damaged her reproductive organs. (She would actually go on to suffer three miscarriages while in the United States, before finally accepting that her body just would not allow her to bear children. She substituted having her own children with adopting many pets though; some of which range from dogs, parrots, monkeys, and even a deer. All of these pets have been used as models in at least one of Kahlo’s paintings. If you would like to know which paintings specifically, Email me and I will give you a list of paintings which feature her pets. )
In addition, the cacti near the rock can be seen in Kahlo’s “Self Portrait on the Border Between Mexico and The United States of America,” done in 1932, where Kahlo clearly expresses the vast differences between the Mexico she loved, and the industrial, cold, United States she despised.
There are also several other symbolic aspects of Kahlo’s painting, which if anyone is interested about learning more about, I’d be glad to give information on. But, seeing as this has already become quite lengthy, I’ll conclude now.

-Jessica, High School Student.
For more information, Email me at
Information Gathered from a multitude of sources; Novels by H. Herrera,
Kettenmann, and other biographies.

Anonymous said...

I'm another one of those 'doing homework' and I would just like to say thanks to Jessica( I'll very likely be emailing you on more Kahlo things) and everybody else because I really do love Kahlo and her artworks that speak so much...

As for the surrealism quote... I have it on my door it is so awesome :)

Anonymous said...

No problem, I'm glad to help when I can. And I'm always willing to help if anyone's got any homework questions, or just wants to know a little more about Frida.

Frida had a lot of good quotes--I like the bitterness she often depicted in her statements, because while she illustrated much about her pain with them, she often also revealed how much painting means to her. She didn't try to fluff life up, and talk about how great it was, or how fun it was, or how everything works out in the end.

Life was just life to Frida, and painting, as well as Diego, was what made it worth it for her.

I'd have loved to meet her.

amateur said...

Frida Kahlo is one of my Favourite artists i cant beleive you hadnt heard of her! have you ever noticed that a lot of one's thinking in done in the tub? i think "the water" gave her time to think about all the important things in her life. this is how i interpretted it.

Anonymous said...

I also cae across this while doing my art homework, the words you used we indeed preternatually beautiful for such a negitive thing created by such a briefy realistic and negative person. Bravo.

Anonymous said...

i really like this picture it has inspired me to create my own version.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much.
this helped me so much...i've been sitting down thinking about what to write for the past 2 hours thinking about what to write.
your a life saver =)

Anonymous said...

i just wanted to say thanks :D

Anonymous said...

Well I don't know much about Kahlo but what i got from the information posted by Jessica really help me in my Art Project.
Thanks Jessica

Anonymous said...

I would just like to thank Jessica. I am actually using this painting by Frida for a spanish project and while the original post was written beautifully, I really benefited from Jessica's detailed information on each piece of the paintings symbolism. Thank you so much!