Picks and Pans Review: Frida Kahlo: Portrait of An Artist

updated 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/04/1989 AT 01:00 AM EDT

PBS (Mon., Sept. 4, 10 P.M. ET)

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She was as flamboyant and dramatic as the paintings she created, this Frida Kahlo. Lately the Mexican artist, who was married to muralist Diego Rivera, has become an object of new respect—her reputation now rivals Rivera's—and curiosity. Hayden Herrera's 1983 book Frida aroused a lot of the interest (even Madonna is reportedly a Kahlo fan). Whether or not you're into feminist surrealistic art, the story of Kahlo, who died at age 44 in 1954, is captivating. To say she was bigger than life is to compare a redwood tree with a bonsai.

Although Kahlo was nearly paralyzed from a streetcar accident as a teenager, she always walked regally and dressed glamorously, usually in native Mexican costumes. Despite constant pain she never complained. Instead she painted her suffering in staggering, shocking imagery. She was furious at her husband for his womanizing; they divorced in 1940 only to remarry later that year. But you could say she had her revenge—an affair with Leon Trotsky and a series of lesbian relationships. While the European surrealists claimed the self-taught Kahlo as their own, she rejected the notion, claiming, "I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality." No one could have made up a more colorful one.

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