“They thought I was a surrealist, but I wasn’t. I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.” – Frida Kahlo
This escapist pursuit of finding a deeper truth in art was an absolutely vital one for the troubled Frida Kahlo. It allowed her to rise above the pain that she lived with, concluding: “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we think we can.” She lived with suffering and strife and express that her work “carries with it the message of pain,” however, she was able to reach beyond that, finding both salvation in her art and a way to preserve a state of joyous exultation, poetically postulating: “I paint flowers so they will not die.”
The root of her pain was largely physical and perhaps this is why her work often deals with the physical form in the most perfunctory sense: self-portraits. In 1925, she was on her way home from school in Mexico City when a bus crash left her with severe injuries that would plague the rest of her life with persistent pain and health problems. At this time, she had planned to become a doctor, but the demands of such a job left the dream in ruins in the fallout of the accident.
During her recovery, she was bed-ridden for months and, as a result, she returned to the artistic passion of her youth using a specially adapted easel to paint her surroundings. Unlike the realism that had proceeded her, her own interpretation of reality was profoundly individualistic. Rather than copy her surroundings like for like, she coloured her canvas with reality in an experiential sense; “I am my own muse,” she said, “The subject I know best.”
This daring pursuit is what forms the blueprint from the Florence + The Machine song ‘What the Water Gave Me’. The song is based on a Frida Kahlo painting of the same title, and it happens to be one of the most luminous and visionary works of all time. It encapsulates the dreamy otherworldliness of the bathroom’s private escapism. It is this insular, imaginative comfort that Florence Welch hoped to capture in song.
In 2011, the powerful singer-songwriter told NME Magazine, “A lot of the time when I’m writing, things will just appear. I was writing the song and this book on symbolism was lying around, and it had the painting in it. It’s nice to mix the ordinary with extraordinary.”
The painting, much like the song, portray concocts fantasy, fable and dark shades of reality from the escapist canvas of bathwater in a display of dreamlike surrealism. In a secondary sense, the song also proves to be very befitting of Kahlo as it reaches a frenzied finale; after all, the artist André Benton did describe her paintings as “a ribbon around a bomb.” She no doubt would’ve approved the anthemic indie classic from a fellow phenom.
You can find out more about Frida Kahlo and her works in the Taschen book Frida Kahlo: The Complete Paintings featuring the image below and more, by clicking here.