Sunday, July 19, 2009

Gustav Klimt and the grace of gold

You can tell how much you love an artist's work by whether or not you would hang it in your living room. I mean, I love all kinds of art, but my living room belongs to Gustav Klimt, the Austrian Symbolist and Art Nouveau painter who created some of the most gorgeous and embellished paintings of all time. His favorite subject was women, and he approached the female body with a frank and appreciative eroticisim that makes his work still relevant a century later. His paintings are a contradiction of amazing visceral beauty and delicate feminine charm.

He got in trouble quite a few times for taking the safe and established symbolic use of the nude female body--something celebrated from the times of the ancient Greeks--and modernizing it to the point that his audiences found it pornographic and perverse. No matter how he portrayed women--clothed, nude, old, young--he handled every single figure with obvious love and respect. He was a man who completely loved women, to the point where they utterly dominate his work. He did produce some lovely landscapes, sunflowers, birch trees, but, for the most part, his most effective paintings are of incredible, eternal women, whether real, imagined, mythical, or typical.

But wait, there is no such thing as a typical Klimt woman. He painted them across the spectrum of life, painted their nude bodies before he painted the increasingly detailed clothing on top of those bodies. He took even the ladies of his portraits to a mythical plain with his use of surrealistic geometric details, and his use of gold leaf. The geometric bits sometimes resemble the Egyptian triangular eye of Horus, looking out at the viewer as we look in, and sometimes resemble pisitils and stamen, reproductive organs as symbols. And his gorgeous gold leaf is applied with a passionate, generous hand, gilding everything to a rich, coin-like surface, surrounding the subject in a sea of wealth.

Klimt has had a heavy influence, not only on my living room decor, but my jewelry making, and I would even say the way I choose to live my life. His bold use of color, ornamentation, and gilt affects my color choices for pieces while I'm creating. His art nouveau style, his romantic subjects, and his love for the ornamentation of women feeds my passion to create art nouveau inspired pieces to decorate wrists and necks and ears. His tireless work ethic (he painted from dawn to dusk almost daily) spurs me to keep working and creating. And his fearless need to live his life by his own rules, no matter what the censors or the public thought, is an inspiration to anyone who chooses to experiment and expand their persona and their art, regardless of social expectations, limits or labels. His only standards for his creations were his own very high ones. He honestly believed that art could better society, could save individuals, and that love could be all we need. . .

Klimt's quote says it best: "I have never painted a self-portrait. I am less interested in myself as a subject for a painting than I am in other people, above all women...There is nothing special about me. I am a painter who paints day after day from morning to night...Who ever wants to know something about me... ought to look carefully at my pictures."

I look at the strength of his Pallas Athene and see the perfect role model: strong, fearless, beautiful, intelligent.

A lot of inspiration from four prints on my living room walls, looking down while I put together a pendant. . .

Link for more info on Klimt and his works:

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