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Kahlo Versus Hester: Comparative Analysis

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Frida Kahlo (1907-54, Mexican) and Joy Hester (1920-60, Australian) are both significant female artists, exploring human emotions and the complexities of life in their work. Kahlo was a surrealist artist often illustrating her Mexican heritage and depicting the female experience through her self-portraiture. Hester was a modernist artist, and was involved in an innovative circle of artists who made great advancements in the development of Australian Modernism. She often created works exemplifying the pain and suffering of the world but also the suffering she experienced in her own life. Hester and Kahlo’s art received little attention during their lifetime, however, their art is appreciated by many and profoundly influential for today’s artists.

In Kahlo’s oil painting Henry Ford Hospital (1932), her small, helpless body bleeds on a hospital bed depicting the story and expression of her feelings during her second miscarriage. This piece was the first time she used sheet metal as its support – encouraged by Diego who wanted to improve her mood after the miscarriage. She illustrates the fragility of her body, while expressing her sadness about her infertility caused by her unfortunate bus accident. Her waist up is towards the viewer, but from the waist down she is turned away which presents a sense of discomfort and disconnection. There are six items including a fetus, a snail, a flower, and a pelvis, floating around her and connecting to her through red vein-like strings. The fetus connected to her by the string, suggests that the ribbons might be a metaphor for umbilical cords. Her umbilical symbolism shows that in ways Kahlo is a ‘mother’ without children. She redefines what it means to be a woman with the absence of motherhood. The other five objects are things Kahlo remembers from the day, such as the snail which symbolises the time it took for the miscarriage to be over. The flower was an actual physical object given to her by Diego, but is also painted to resemble a uterus. Kahlo’s manifestation of infertility inspires and gives leverage for other women who suffer from the result of an accident or miscarriage.

Joy Hester’s Mother and Child encompasses a child who resembles a fetus, as if he/she is awaiting to be born. Hester used brush and ink on thin off-white wove paper to produce this artwork. Attention is drawn to the baby’s head, which is almost as large as the mother’s. The fetus’ soft face has two grey dots for eyes and a small curved body, which suggests the development of a fetus in the mother’s womb slowly coming into form. The mother’s facial features are vastly prominent in comparison to the baby’s eyes and mouth which aren’t distinct characteristics and are instead softly defined. The mother’s face is divided by a black vertical line curving down her face along a side of the nose to the chin. Her facial expression appears to be full of fondness and graceful eagerness, awaiting the birth of her baby. This piece was made in 1955 after having two children during her second marriage with Gray Smith in 1951 and 1954. During this time in her life, she created works depicting motherhood and how she feels about being a mother.

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In Henry Ford Hospital and Mother and Child, the theme of motherhood is evident in both pieces; however, the works contradict each other at the same time. Kahlo’s narration of her inability to bear a child, contrasts Hester’s portrayal of a mother and baby. Kahlo’s pains and frustrations are prominent in the artwork, whereas, Mother and Child is one of Hester’s more positive, graceful pieces revealing the gift of motherhood. Hester shows appreciation and tenderness towards being a mother through the way she draws the mother’s exquisite facial expression. In comparison, Kahlo establishes the absence of motherhood and her sadness towards never being able to conceive. Despite the differences in the works, both exemplify feminism and inspires all women, disregarding whether they have children or not.

Frida Kahlo creates a more realistic interpretation, whereas, Hester’s piece is expressive and distorted in style. They also used different techniques and materials, with Kahlo using oil paint and sheet metal, while Hester used ink and Chinese brushwork to produce quick, expressionist brush strokes. In Mother and Child, she uses curved lines to add feelings of comfort and safety. Moreover, Kahlo uses a variety of bright colours, particularly in the foreground and also uses cooler hues in the background, emphasizing on some of the objects to come forward in the painting. In contrast, Hester sticks to using one shade and uses chiaroscuro to make the mother and child’s faced prominent in the work. Significant attention is brought onto the light-grey coloured faces backed by the all dark-grey colour in the background. Shared between the two works of art, is that actual time is rendered as they both draw upon personal life events. Kahlo depicted her emotional and psychological experience during the miscarriage, while Hester expresses her feelings of being a mother a year after conceiving two children.

Both Hester and Kahlo created art based on their personal life experiences. Frida Kahlo experienced many traumatic events in her lifetime, including suffering from polio, being impaled by a steel handrail during a bus accident, divorce, periods of depression and several miscarriages. In addition, she explored her Mexican heritage and concepts of feminism in her major works. Alike Kahlo, Hester experienced hardships in her life being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, having an unpleasant childhood and also going through divorces. Both artists can be seen weaving in their pain and passion into their art. Kahlo’s approaches were surrealistic, yet realistic as she produced dream-like visuals and used symbolism to portray realistic concepts. In comparison, Hester explored modernism as she often rejected traditional and conservative values, creating ‘cutting-edge’ artworks. Both artists are distinct in their artistic style, however, convey similar experiences and concepts.

Kahlo and Hester are both well-known for portraiture capturing their physical, emotional and psychological life events including their interpretation of motherhood. Kahlo produced self-portraits expressing her feelings towards being infertile, while Hester made illustrations of her depiction of being a mother. Kahlo takes a surrealistic and realistic approach, whereas, Hester’s work is modernistic. Kahlo often used bright colours despite creating violent and morbid themes, whereas Hester always used brush and ink to produce intense human emotions. Frida Kahlo and Joy Hester are both renowned female artists, not recognized during their lifetime, however prominent influential figures today.

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