I am a Gustav Klimt groupie. I love his imagery, his repeated patterns and his female forms. I find his female portraits powerful, strong and beautiful, and though sometimes vulgar, brilliant. I am also a fan of German artist Gabriele Münter. I admire how she used simple, clean lines and bold colour in her female portraits.
I decided to entwine them and combined the simplified form and vibrant colours of Gabriele's paintings with the composition of Gustav Klimt's 'The Black Feather Hat'. This was the first time I had used black paint to outline a portrait, and I felt that I actually ended up with an image reminiscent of Toulouse-Lautrec.
I considered Lautrec's work tawdry and exploitative. Other than our shared liking for cocktails, (his was a mixture of absinthe and cognac, mine a more demure combination of gin and crème de mûre), we had no common ground.
Lautrec died in a sanitorium of alcoholism and syphilis before his 37th birthday, leaving behind a collection of suggestive and vibrant posters, paintings and lithographs.
At the time, male artists portrayed women as either a Madonna or a Salome, angel or temptress. I thought that Lautrec would be the same. However, having seen several of his earlier sketches, I now feel that his works were not a statement or judgement about women as sex workers, but rather an invitation to the viewer to really see the lives that these women were living. Apparently, sex workers enjoyed his company so much so that he used to stay for months in their establishments, giving him the opportunity to create intimate 'fly on the wall' sketches.
Maybe living with disabilities and feeling like an outsider made his work non-judgemental. Perhaps he loved the colour and energy of being surrounded by the lights, paints, drama and energy of Montmartre’s nightlife, and wanted to capture and share everything about it.
I would like to think that, being surrounded by bohemians where art and emotion, drama and passion were paramount, he felt accepted and alive.
I no longer think of his work as exploitative, and I thank Gustav and Gabrielle for giving me new inspiration outside of my comfort zone. I will definitely be using black paint to outline my portraits again.
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