Morning coffee in the studio with my recent bird series,
no coincidence that I love the spiral in my work
Artist Kimberly Kelly Santini and I decided to give ourselves a challenge a few months back. We set out to paint an image in the style of an artist that we admire, married with our own subject matter and techniques. February, the month of love, was set aside for my favorite artist, Gustav Klimt. Kim's Klimted version of my dogs Sam and Bella is stunning. As Kim put it, we are going to "wallow in artistic brilliance and see if by chance a little of it might rub off on us."
Speaking of rubbing off, or not...
My Klimt tattoo, (Fulfillment) circa 1990
from the Tree of Life
I have studied the work of Gustav Klimt nearly all my adult life. I have admired his gold leaf, his symbolism, composition and above all, his combination of flat patterning and design elements with amazing lifelike portraiture featuring beautiful and delicate modeling and brush work. Being both a graphic artist and a painter, this combination in Klimt's work resonates with me on two different levels.
My first exposure to him was in college, while on a semester abroad in London, UK through Syracuse University. I had a fellow student in my illustration class who was from RISD on the SU program. She was goth, black hair, heavy black makeup, combat boots, listening to GNR on her headphones. Claire and I hit it off, I loved her look and she loved Klimt. She showed me photos of a dining room she had painted in his style on commission. I looked him up and poured over library books for hours, It was true love, and that love never faded for me.
My bedroom room rug, inspiration at my feet
My Maternal Great Grandmother's name was Emily. My Mom always told me that if she had another girl after my sister (I am the oldest of five kids) the name she had waiting in the wings was Emily. Alas, she had three boys after Aimée, and we are all glad she stopped after that!
Emilie Louise Flöge was an Austrian designer, fashion designer, and businesswoman. She was the lifelong companion of Klimt. Her youngest sister was married to Klimt's brother Ernst. Klimt portrayed Emilie in many of his works. My first child, a girl, we named Emilie Elizabeth Nelson
I read this book to both my kids when they were small,
Emilie loved that her name was spelled the same as the girl in the book.
Gustav Klimt was born on July 14th (and I was born on the 13th!) (1862 - 1918) His genre is Symbolism and Art Nouveau. One of his most famous paintings is "Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1" This painting sold for $135 million in 2006, which made it at that time the most expensive painting for about four months. I was lucky enough to see this painting before it was sold (along with 10 others) in the Österreichische Galerie Vienna, Austria. I traveled to Austria solely to view the original works of Klimt. I went alone, and I enjoyed every minute of my time in front of his breathtaking originals, taking copious notes in my sketchbook. As the shift change of the museum guards took place, I realized I had been there all day. Adele Bloch-Bauer commissioned her portrait to be painted twice by Klimt, lucky woman. I have always wanted to be in her shoes...
crown jewel of my shoe collection for many years
For the Klimt Challenge, I couldn't think of a better subject to tackle than my own self portrait (which I have never done in collage) as Adele Bloch-Bauer in the famed gold portrait. I would have my golden portrait, even if I had to paint it myself!
In progress, underpainting and sketch on wood panel
My Klimted self portrait is 24x30 and that's pretty big! The intricate patterning took me a while to collage. On the left is my homage to Klimt's "Tree of Life" where I updated the bird to be a modern day painted bunting, he's got my colors! I love the spirals Klimt uses in much of his work, you can see that influence in my collages.
While Kim was visiting FL and working on her Klimted piece, my friend and fellow artist Robin Maria Pedrero stopped by and started working on her own Klimt inspired still life, "Tea Party with Klimt" Her piece was started in my studio and it was wonderful for three artists to be working on a Klimt challenge in one space!
Friend and fellow National Collage Society member Alyson Champ said our Klimt challenge influenced her raven piece.
Self Portrait as Adele Bloch-Bauer with Painted Bunting
©Elizabeth St. Hilaire Nelson / 30x24 / collage of hand painted papers on panel
For my portrait, I felt that the black hat was reminiscent of Adele's hair in Klimt's rendition. I wore the glasses to give me a more modern look, but I kept the concept of a collar that separated my head from the rest of my body and the patterning of design elements, both in metallic gold and in color.
This challenge was not so challenging for me, since my life has always been Klimted (a term coined by Robin, by the way) and I have had the amazing opportunity to see his work in person. Something I'll never forget.
for an really visually stunning film of Klimt's life, starring John Malkovich, check out
KLIMT available on DVD and Netflix