Klimt's Girl Friends
a re-evaluation from Chris Wayan's journal 1998/7/4
I just saw a painting by Gustave Klimt: Girl Friends, 1916-17, a portrait of a lesbian couple.
One of them looks very strange--snake-eyed, with tiny pupils. Yet to me, she's still warm and likable. A really odd combination of feelings! From the breasts down, Snake Girl's body has clearly been squeezed out of a toothpaste tube, all long and wobbly. Why does Klimt do this? He knows anatomy.
Now, you'd think the one with snake eyes would be the wary sentinel, guarding them both from a homophobic world (and worse: Hitler, coming soon). But from the way they eye us and one another, it's clear that Snake Girl, tender in private, is just too odd to function out in the human world. She relies on her lover to mediate. I'm amazed how much the portrait reveals of their characters and relationship... once I start looking beyond the decorative surface.
And the painting does form a highly decorative pattern, typically Klimt. The two, particularly that red robe, fit into that lurid wallpaper of fantastic birds. Why not? Aren't they just two more?
Yet psychologically it's deep portraiture. Makes me want to re-examine his other paintings. I've seen his portraits of women as fantasies--sort of a fine-art Frazetta, plus gold leaf to up the price. What if they're all really psychological studies of real people too?
Yes, a lot of my images are as pinuppy as Klimt's because I like sexy and colorful and decorative, but I never think of those images as sex OBJECTS. I don't like seeing anyone as objects. Let alone myself! Subjects. I'm all about subject. Trying to make you identify. With that woman. With that horse. With that snake. Whoever.
So now I wonder about Klimt and his friends... and what ELSE (besides lesbian survival strategies in fascist times) might be hiding behind all that gold leaf.
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