Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Gustav Klimt: A Look at the Drawings of a Painter

Gustav Klimt (1862-1918)

I have always been a huge fan of the work of Gustav Klimt. Generally, his most famous works are paintings characterized by his abstract use of the female figure and a bold use of color and pattern. Below are two examples of typical Klimt paintings that show this mix of pattern, color and figure.

However, due to the fact that Klimt is known mostly for his paintings, I realized that I couldn’t recall ever seeing a drawing by the artist. Consequently, I decided to do some research into what a Gustav Klimt drawing might look like and if a typical Gustav Klimt drawing looked anything like his paintings. However, coming out of the research, I was moderately surprised because the style of his drawings seemed completely different than the style of his paintings.

On one hand, many of his drawings (while still beautiful) were a lot more conservative, technical, and straightforward than I’d expected without any hint to a deeper conceptual meaning like I was used to seeing in his paintings. His drawings do not use the intricate patterns or colors that have become iconic of his style and if I had not squinted closely at the Klimt signature in the corner I am not sure that I would be convinced that they were in fact works by Gustav Klimt.

On the other hand, I was shocked by another series of drawings by Klimt that were in complete contrast to these conservative and straightforward observational drawings. In fact, some of his drawings were downright provocative; many of them explicitly illustrating female subjects in the process of masturbating. Despite being provocative however, these drawings still had little resemblance to the Klimt paintings. Like the more conservative drawings, these drawings too were drawn without color and pattern and in a very realistic manner whereas the figures of his paintings are often abstract and distorted. In fact, the only drawings that I was able to find that hinted at a patterned and abstract style were the actual plan sketches that Klimt had done in preparation for his paintings (shown below). These sketches are also good because they go along with the process that we have begun practicing in class which involves establishing a planned sketch in anticipation for a final piece.

After doing this research, it seems that the only connection that I am able to make between Klimt’s straightforward/ technical drawings and his more abstract/ conceptual paintings is his use of the human figure. However, in his drawings, his human figures are a lot more realistic and observational whereas in his paintings, the figures are often distorted and more abstract. To me this suggests that many artists who do a lot of abstract work still at the same time have a strong technical background in art. I feel as though many people who do not do art themselves might only look at abstract art as unskilled art due to the fact that it might not be as realistic as the conservative and technical art. However, what a lot of these people do not know is that many artists who create abstract art do it because they choose to. It is not because they do not have the technical skills to do the straightforward and realistic art as Klimt clearly shows.

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