New Face of Klimt Celebrated By Contemporary Artists – Review

Gustav Klimt

A flash of colour and lingering pose adorn the walls of the Lazarides gallery near Tottenham Court Road. For a brief moment London is transformed into a modern Viennese court of wonder. New and old are mixed together with international flare at the new exhibition “Klimt Illustrated”. Nine international street artists have been working tirelessly to reinterpret and celebrate one of Gustav Klimt’s most famous pieces, The Kiss. The exhibition is erotic and desirable to say the least. The work is priceless in many senses and explores a very personal and private man who would have been celebrating his 150th birthday recently with style and a fair bit of debauchery.


Tomorrow Lazarides Gallery will open the doors to the public to display work by nine international street artists who have been working on these pieces in public, which is fairly uncommon in the practice. The selected artists are Bastardilla, Know Hope, Marlene Hausegger, Ron English, Christian Eisenberger, Vhils, Mode 2, Shepard Fairey, and Lucy McLauchlan.They we asked to begin their pieces in Grosvenor Gardens on Tuesday, working throughout the sunny day as tourists and locals mingled in and out. Since then the massive pieces spanning 2 metre-square boards were transported to the galleries exquisite space off Rathbone Place, near Tottenham Court road and well in the reach of swarming masses spilling in from a day of shopping and general revelry. The artists each bring a bit of their own taste and personality to the project and provide a fresh perspective the life of Klimt that has been historically unknown. Some such as Mode 2, created pieces that were direct and to the point while others researched the hidden meaning behind a very complex and often tortured man. They have managed to bring a new life and meaning to Klimt and his work through this explorative process.


Lucy McLauchlan, is originally from Birmingham and is one of the few females to have made a name for herself in the street art community. She is part of the V&A’s permanent collection and has shown all over the world. Her work in this project shows a sensual and soft observation of the role that women played in Klimt’s life. It’s whimsical and caring, devoid of colour except for the shimmering gold orb, a reflection to Klimt’s “gold style” which dominated his later years.




Another female artist to grace the show is only known by her pseudonym Bastardilla. From Colombia, her work is fast-paced and full of adrenaline. Lines and colours melt together so fast the eye is nearly overwhelmed. In her piece for the show she playfully changes the perspective on the viewer providing a way to look into the work while a sorrowful creature, human in nature peers back and provides a message of optimism on an invisible barrier.




Know Hope, a young American artists who examines the bigger picture. His work revolves around solitude, and ambivalence, major components of the human condition. He is one of the only artists in the exhibition to include an element of the street by working off of the canvas. His pieces are delicately constructed on planks of reclaimed wood, giving the complete work a natural aesthetic to accompany drawings and paintings that appear to mimic the amateur hand. It’s a piece that speaks of resignation with the accompanying white flag.



Marlene Hausegger, one of two Austrian artists to create work for the exhibition, looks at Klimt’s life outside of Vienna. She explored his love to travel to the country and explore the lake districts which were a favourite escape for him. It’s a successful way to explore the man that lurked underneath the public figure. It shows a reserved side which was happy in many ways through isolation and contemplation. He had a telescope which he brought with him and which has featured prominently in Hausegger’s piece here. It appears from the show that the artists from Austria were able to draw out a personal and intimate connection with the man, Klimt, while other artists from the UK and other places around the world interpreted and created work that directly related to The Kiss, both are respectable and balanced to form a persona around a figure that had such a major impact on the history of art.




Chris Eisenberger brings Klimt to life through texture and shape. His piece, shown below, is create with lace which is laid on the canvas an spray-painted on top of. It’s delicate and harsh. A balance that Klimt may have struggled with as well as his work was often scrutinized as being too erotic for the time. Eisenberg’s piece places with this juxtaposition with favourable outcome.




Shepard Fairey, who is most well known for his work on the Obama presidential campaign and his Obey the Giant scrawl shows a very different side during this show. Fairey’s work is dainty. It features an animated woman, overtly sexualized to the point where an embracing partner which is shown in Klimts’ work The Kiss would utterly overwhelm the piece. It’s a highly erotic image without trying to be, the entire focus is on the woman something that Klimt would fully support. Fairey, was able to include a subtle reference to Obey in the top left corner for those who are familiar with his work to smirk at. It’s cheeky and subtle.



Ron English is a pop genius. His piece is witty, and laced with comic splendor. Kissing couples make anyone walking by blush slightly as they carry on with their business in plain sight. They are everywhere, a touch of voyeurism being on the agenda in this piece. At the same time sunflowers in all of their plastic blissfulness creep up from the bottom of the frame. Upon closer inspection their sunny disposition is restored by their skeleton frames appearing from under their pliable smiles. There is a sadness that suddenly fills the image, expressing an interpretation from English that explores the darkness hidden in Klimt’s life.




Vhils, the youngest artist to exhibit during the show, addresses the changing face of street art. Rather than adding layers of paint to a wall or canvas, Vhils carves into an existing layer of material of plaster or created images. His work adorns the streets around Brick Lane although the artist was originally born in Portugal. There is a grappling with needs and desires in his work. Perhaps a struggle that Klimt’s faced as he was often suggested to have extreme lust for many women. He also desired, knowledge, and a life of stability something that can potentially be seen in the work that Vhils created.




The highlight of the show has been the work by Mode 2 which is graphic and an almost direct interpretation of Klimt’s original piece. It’s breathtaking in scale and intimacy. Mode 2 spent time as a member in The Chrome Angelz which provided him the opportunity to travel across Europe. What may lend itself most to this piece was the time he spent as artist-in-residence for Samantha Roddick’s Coco de Mer. Klimt would have to try hard not to smile standing before this piece.




Klimt was a man of complexity. The exhibition, “Vienna Klimt Illustrated” demonstrates this. With the help of The Vienna Tourist Board and Lazarides Gallery, these talented artists were able to bring together and understanding of a man who has influenced so many artists working today. They have exposed themselves to understand his madness and joy, and in doing so shown a man draped in golden style. The show will be running from the 24 August to 1 September.

Words by: Portia Pettersen Copyright Artlyst 2012 Images by: Portia Pettersen Artlyst Copyright 2012


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