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  • Writer's pictureMichelle Carlos

The Kiss Is Not Just A Kiss

Updated: Feb 18, 2019

There are many reasons why "Der Kuss", also known as "The Kiss", by Gustav Klimt is my favorite art piece and the artist himself as one of my heroes in art. Follow me through as I explore the master piece based from a few relevant art themes.

First Love

In the summer of 2011, I was fortunate enough to see Der Kuss in person at the marvelous Belvedere Palace in Vienna. In fact that was the only thing I wanted to see and the rest of the city just happened to be there. The moment I laid eyes on the great art, I felt a tingling sensation all over—that feeling of anticipation and excitement when you know you will see the object of your affection at a party. Had it been allowed I would have spent the entire day just staring at it but a swarm of gallery visitors were already gathering around it that completely ruined the moment for me—though quite unlike the ridiculousness at the Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

The first time I saw an image of it from a Taschen book, I fell in love! I wasn't being an artist that time so the picture was purely entertainment to me. The way the man locks the woman's face and she in complete surrender to the smooch on her cheek and yes, the man all over her and likewise the shimmering surrounding were all too fascinating to me. No one has kissed me that way, I realized, and definitely not in that matching gilded outfit. It was the kiss that captured my heart and from then on I was a Klimt devotee.

New Art in an Old Society

Gustav Klimt is known for his distinctive style, which is almost synonymous to modern decorative art otherwise known as the Viennese Jugendstil (Viennese Art Nouveau). He has ingeniously merged various techniques and art movements into his own.

Provoking the traditional school of fine art by promoting obscene visuals, Klimt's works in general made him internationally renowned regardless of the apprehensions of a conservative early 20th century society. Despite the backlash of criticisms in his choice of erotic subject matter, he continued creating provocative images expressing his own eccentric yet passionate character.

The Jugenstil movement paved the way to modern art that would influence generations of artists even to this day. Since I am also an artist who is constantly exploring ideas, themes, techniques and styles that I can incorporate into my pieces, I have discovered that one of my struggles is having a distinctive style. I create according to my current emotion and state of mind as well as what has inspired me at the time I have conceived an idea for a painting. The argument now would be if having a signature style in this era matters at all.

Woman wearing a crown and ornate veil
The decorative elements in my pieces stem from the influence of Klimt's style identified in the art movement, Jugendstil "Blessed" | Michelle Carlos | Watercolor and Gouache | 2018

Spaces and Places

Klimt was also known to get inspiration from his surroundings particularly his garden, which constantly appears in his ornamental designs. In Der Kuss, the couple are set onto the edge of a meadow strewn in colourful blooms that may have been representative of his own backyard. Meanwhile, the Byzantine mosaics from his visits in Ravenna evidently inspired the geometric patterns on the couples’ clothing. The meaning and true inspiration of the painting remains to be enigmatic just like its creator.

Der Kuss is ultimately my favourite artwork mainly because of the emotions it invokes on me as the viewer—not to mention the technical merits of the piece, which incorporates gold and ornamental patterns into a modern decorative artwork—a technique that I am also presently practicing. His use of detailed ornamental patterns against a rather vast space further concentrates the attention to the main subject, a pair of intimate lovers in slightly abstracted forms.

In several of my pieces, I have often plucked techniques and design elements from the Jugenstil movement particularly from Klimt. By doing so, I have somehow made a connection to his genius probably in the same way his paintings have touched me.

Applying gold leaf on my painting

Common Gold

Although he used ancient techniques such as gilding and used a wide range of references from Egyptian mythology to Renaissance decorative gold work to Byzantine mosaics and iconography, in which gold was primarily used to elevate the religious status of the icon, Klimt sought to modernize the technique and even revive gold from its democratized value at that time when the highly priced precious metal could be faked and industrially mass-produced. Through his artworks during his “Golden Phase” he has restored a common material back into its valuable status.

The use of gold and decorative elements also symbolizes the celebration of the most sacred human relationship—the passionate love between two persons. His fantastic rendition of the intertwined lovers embellished and shrouded by gold might have revealed a deeper sense of the artist’s emotions at that time—the intangible bliss of romantic intimacy.

A man kissing a woman
A cheap reproduction of the painting purchased from a souvenir shop in Vienna

Klimt was definitely a modern artist, who understood the traditional practices in fine art and twisted the doctrines into making a style uniquely his own. However, nowadays his works are so popular that they have become overly massed-produced, from fridge magnets to pillow cases to print reproductions which then brings me into the conclusion that great art intended to elevate common themes and media could come full circle from being highly valued to becoming souvenir objects.

We don't know if Klimt would be rolling over in his grave had he known how lucrative his artworks have become in the mass produced tourist market. Nevertheless, I am still and forever will be a purveyor of Klimt's turn of the century modernist art movement and perhaps through constant practice and exploration of techniques I would also create a style of my own.

Woman wearing a golden crown and veil
Inspired by Klimt and the trapped soap bubbles in the sink "Gloria" | Michelle Carlos | Watercolor and Gold Ink | 2018


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