RSVP Online for the “Homage to Klimt” Design Series Opening
Saturday, October 19, 2013 from noon – 6pm at Eve J Alfille Gallery & Studio
Authored by Maggie Flynn, Medill School of Journalism
The intertwined figures in Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” scarcely look human at first glance. The first clear impression is that of a woman’s face and shoulders floating in an amorphous gold cloak. Only on closer examination does the back of the head bent over her become apparent. The lover’s hands are tender on the woman’s face, and her arm is wrapped around his neck. It’s an intimate, striking moment, captured with amazing detail.
However the details of this painting— bits of colors, rectangles and circles in the cloaks, textured backgrounds—aren’t what you’d expect from a depiction of two lovers. From top to bottom, Klimt’s work showcases color and texture in a way designed to evoke the experience of all the senses.
That engagement of the senses inspired Eve Alfille’s newest jewelry series, which draws from the works of Gustav Klimt (1862-1918).
The jewelry art of Eve Alfille has always engaged the senses, but in her newest series, she’s hoping to capture something of that transformation. It’s a lofty goal. Crafting a jewelry piece that achieves artistic purpose and suitability involves walking a tricky tightrope between art and craft.
In 1900-1912, in which Klimt would produce “The Kiss,” movements for the beautification of objects began to gather momentum. European nations were in various states of upheaval. Freudian psychology was making its way around Europe, and interest in primitive civilizations and primal urges was becoming stronger. Dissatisfaction with the aristocracy’s domination of the arts had been growing for some decades, and more and more artists believed that “art had to be for everybody.” Art had begun to move out of academic circles and off the canvas.
Eve’s fascination with the art of that time played a major role in her ‘Homage to Klimt’, but it’s not the first time that 1900-1912 has inspired her. In the fall of 2011, she created a series titled “Dancing Under the Stars,” inspired by the work of Lyonel Feininger, another artist of that period.
Unlike Klimt, Feininger depicted a world fueled by the subconscious.
“That was work was about dreams, images from dreams. It was about surrealism,” Eve explained in reference to “Dancing Under the Stars.”
Her newest series, ‘Homage to Klimt,’ draws inspiration from the same time period, but her creative process for the Klimt series has been brewing steadily for some years. It’s part of her creative process- to wait out the initial spark, think about the designs. And when the time is right to begin her art, she knows, though she doesn’t say much about how- merely that when the images start to come, she begins to get a better sense of what to make.
“That’s the chef’s secret, right?” she said with a smile.
Two artistic movements that intersected at that time were surrealism and symbolism. While surrealists, in Eve’s words, “were trying to access the strange logic of dreams,” symbolists were concerned with the senses. For symbolists, the senses were the true source of art, and “it was felt that all the senses speak together.”
Klimt, a true symbolist, drew his artistic inspiration from the academic art which he learned in his artistic schooling, the goldsmith work of his immediate family, ancient golden frescoes, and the societal unrest that had spread throughout his lifetime. His work is marked with symbols and strange sensual correlatives ranging from the Egyptian eye to ovals, color schemes associated with life and death.
Eve finds those symbols particularly meaningful.
“I’m fascinated by his particular- what I call his alphabet,” she said in reference to the symbols.
His alphabet was endlessly intricate and endlessly inventive. In some pieces Klimt would pay the trappings of his subjects more attention than the subjects themselves. With his symbols and lines, he forces his audience to pay attention to how the senses work in tandem to produce a fuller picture of reality than what the eye perceived. Klimt’s use of texture and goldsmith work in his paintings proved how artistic such blending of the senses could be, something that Eve appreciates in her work as a jewelry artist.
“Jewelry is one of the arts, and I consider myself an artist. But jewelry is- in art schools, they distinguish between art and craft. The idea being that a piece of art does not have a useful purpose other than to inspire. A craft can be utilized. So craft has been considered less exalted, secondary. Most museums deal in art, not craft. In art circles, craft is also called the decorative arts or the minor arts,” Eve said thoughtfully as she paged through a collection of Klimt’s works.
“It’s an artificial distinction and Klimt doesn’t do that.”
Eve’s newest series showcases how artificial that distinction is. Even while the jewelry pieces are works in progress, they evoke the sensual engagement of a Klimt painting through their use of colors and shapes. However she says not to expect mirror images of the Klimt patterns, or the reproduction of accessories in the paintings.
“One of the things that has made me even more cautious is that Klimt has been appropriated so much. You can get a Klimt bedspread that’s one of the pieces- so I realize people might expect that,” she said drily. “I hope they will understand that it is not an appropriation, or an exact replica.”
One of Eve’s expressed goals is to produce pieces that convey intense sensual effects paralleling Klimt’s work, and a small pair of pearl earrings, simply constructed, brings to mind his use of off-kilter patterns and textures. At first glance, the earrings look identical. But the pearls are not quite the same shape and size, and the difference between them only highlights the similarity in their trimmings, which consist of tiny rubies and wire.
The rubies show up frequently in the sketches and completed pieces for the jewelry series. Interestingly, they are almost never the focal point of the jewelry piece; rather they provide a tiny splash of color in the midst of the triangles and spirals that are reminiscent of Klimt’s use of eyes and ‘trees of life.’
“It means plentitude, it expresses fullness. It’s a very expressive stone. It’s the blood, but it’s also the life,” Eve said when asked about the rubies.
She described Klimt’s paintings in similar terms, speaking fondly of the fullness of Klimt’s paintings and how they cover every inch of the canvas on which they stand. There’s no space unused in a Klimt painting, and Eve hopes to convey some of that richness in her jewelry.
“I like to have a certain depth- to express a message in different ways. So you get one impression, maybe from the lushness of the materials, the textures, the cabochon rubies, the warmth of the gold- and gradually also feel- the other things I’m trying to convey- the riches of experiences and the sensuality- I’d like for the whole to be more than the sum of the parts.
“I’d like people to feel when they see the piece that there’s an underlying intelligence at work- that it isn’t merely an object.”