The Casa Azul in the Coyoacán area of Mexico City was the place that Frida Kahlo called home for most of her life. Bought by her father in the years before she was born, it came to Kahlo in 1939. In many respects the house, and in particular its accompanying garden, would become one of Kahlo’s defining works, one that she worked on passionately until her death in 1954. After a month in hospital she was taken home to die and her final request was to be moved to a room that allowed her to look out across her beloved garden: an environment that both matched and inspired the rich vibrancy of its custodian’s life.
Many aspects of Kahlo’s life can be traced through the photos and paintings of her garden. Her relationship with Leon Trotsky, exiled in Mexico, is documented in a small collection of photographs, many taken amongst the plants and flowers sprawling from the grounds of Casa Azul. A photograph taken just three years before her death shows Frida standing proud amidst an abundance of exotic-looking blooms and explosions of wall-climbing ivy. Her face, so often characterised as a collection of severe features, is somehow softened by her obvious joy at the nature surrounding her. The photo is black and white, but you can almost feel the richness of colours spilling from the image.
If the colours in the above photo exist on an imagined plane then there can be no mistaking their almost tangible tones in the portraits she set in the garden. A self portrait painted in 1940, a year after taking ownership of the house shows Frieda in all her glory: those defiant streaks of unconventional facial hair and pursed lips, elevated amongst verdant foliage and diverse wildlife.
Kahlo used the garden as an open-air classroom when she began to teach, and the garden life spilled increasingly into the interiors of her home. All manner of flowers - including masses of dahlias, the national flower of Mexico - would flood her dining table. Here she would work on her still life compositions and press flowers within the pages of her favourite books. In fact, a recent exhibition on Kahlo at the New York Botanical Gardens included her copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass (this writer’s all-time favourite collection of poetry). Inside the pages still are dried leaves and petals. Surveying the striking features and uses of Kahlo’s garden, one can’t help but be reminded of a snippet from Whitman’s opus, summing up as it does the way the great artist interacting with her green space: “storming, enjoying, planning, loving…”
Take a look at more photos take from the book Frida Kahlo's Garden by Adriana Zavala below.
Black and white photo of Frida Kahlo in her garden - www.apapachogallery.com