Author: Ragsdale, Adrienne
Date published: October 1, 2011
Bright, shining gold, so daring and intense. Patterns reflecting the spirit of the portrait's subject, wisps of a look that intrigue the viewer. Something sultry in the eye, something shimmering on the Up ... these are the works of Gustav Klimt.
Gustav Klimt was Vienna's golden boy of painting. Through his use of pattern and the mosaic qualities in his paintings, Klimt blurred the lines between reality and illusion. His painted mosaics employed undulating patterns, floral embellishments and that everpresent touch of gold.
During my scholastic career, I had tripped over a poster book of Klimt images. I was captivated and grateful that fate had led me Io the wonderful works of color and line. I took the images with me to my job at a small, rural farm school, where I taught art to kindergarten through sixth-grade students.
In my little utopia of an art room, I, like many art teachers, implemented an artist-of-the-month policy. The works of greats, like Picasso, Michelangelo and Pollock, graced my walls. We spent days drawing under tables, slinging paint and learning how to correctly pronounce van Gogh. Then the time came to introduce the children to Klimt. I was instantly pleased with the sparkles in their eyes as they sat down on the carpet, mesmerized by the images on the board.
"Children, I would like to introduce you to a painter by the name of Gustav Klimt. Take a moment and pay close attention to the paintings," I said to all their captivated, third-grade faces.
"What do you see?" I asked after a few minutes.
"This lady here, she says Tm rich and beautiful,1" a girl in the front row answered.
"Why rich?" I asked.
"Look at all the gold. She's like a queen," she replied.
"Yeah, 1 like the gold, too," a boy in the back chimed in.
We spoke about many of the works, and the kids were responding with mass enthusiasm until we got to The Kiss. "Eeeeeewwwww, yuck!" was the overwhelming reply from girl and boy alike. Discussions of the realism of the people in the portraits evolved into more comments about the gold in the pieces, and, yes, more remarks about that kiss, which also moved into observations about the use of patterns around the subjects.
With our creative juices flowing, we all made our way back to the tables. As the students got settled in, I unveiled my latest lesson plan - my own attempt at a Klimt. Ooohs and aaahs abounded. I explained. "OK guys and gals, this is my Klimt selfportrait- What do you notice?"
"Color and gold," said a student on my left.
"What else?" I pressed on.
"Patterns in the paper you used," said another.
"Right on!" I said, as I looked around the room for any more comments.
"Did Klimt use paper or paint?" a boy to my right asked.
"He was a painter," I answered. "We are going to paint with paper. We are going to collage today. We will be using all of the same elements that Kliml used, only with a different media. You will create your own self-portrait in the style of Gustav Kliml."
OUR CREATIVE WORK BEGINS I placed boxes of various jewel-toned origami papers, many of them with gold, on the tables. I asked the students to think for a few minutes about how they wanted to portray themselves. Did they want to be lonely, as in Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, or together with someone, as in The Kiss? Many giggles resounded in the room at the thought of creating kissing couples, so, as a class, we decided to work with one subject only.
I asked them to lake boxes of origami papers, and to find three pieces that had patterns and colors that reflected how they were feeling that day. This required a little elaboration. I asked one bov at the front table, "Robert, how are you feeling today?"
"Well, I feel hungry." he replied.
"Do you see 'hungry' paper?"
"Yep, here's one with animals on it. I eat animals," he answered.
"OK. how else do you feel?"
"I'm pretty happy right now."
"Do you see a happy paper?"
"This yellow and gold one is happy," he replied.
After everyone in class had taken their time to find the papers that captured their emotions, we set off for all the other necessities.
As we stared down at our 9'' x 12'' sheets of tan construction paper, we commenced with the placement of our portrait subjects. Once again, as I always did when we worked with portraiture. I reminded the students to be creative with position. I encouraged them to place themselves somewhere meaningful in the piece, and not just in the merry middle.
Our initial Hurry of paper pieces and gluing produced hair, which was the basis for the head on our figures. After the hair was in place, we used pastels to draw in the faces and necks on our portraits. The bodies were added piece by piece until the ligure had a torso, arms, legs, shoes, etc. Some students opted to draw in hands and feet. I added lots of advice about using the techniques of overlapping so the bodies weren't see-through.
Once the figures were blocked in. we worked on the background. Klimt meshed together his style of "harsher geometricity" during his gold period, and was known to incorporati1 "meticulously fragmented ornamentation" in the backgrounds of his works (Gustav Klimt, Harry N, Abrams, p. 22).
In order to accomplish this same geometric influence and fragmented style, students had to focus on Ihe shape and purpose for each of the paper pieces they applied (o the work. Many of them found creative uses for animal papers, and created very unconventional skies out of furs, feathers and scales.
We chose two to three papers, differing from our "clothes." As those took shape, I told students to begin looking for extra bits of the papers to use as focal points in the pieces. 1 reminded them the figure was the main focal point in the composition, so they needed to be aware of creating balance as they added more papers. Klimt balanced his works by cither heavily embellishing the background or purposefully leaving il unadorned.
The students worked to a point where they were having !rouble gluing around their figures. After many disastrous attempts in which (he central figure was covered up totally by a rogue glue stick, we decided to use the pastels to fill in around the people. We focused on our "brushstrokes" to emulate the designs and patterns in the papers.
When the pieces were complete, the students took a moment to reflect on the personalities of the portraits. Statements such as "she must love flowers and the outdoors," "he looks strong and brave like an Indian," and "she looks like an artist with all those Unes around her" permeated the art room.
My little critics were seeing depth in their own portraits, just as they had appreciated the many facets in the reallife jewels of Gustav Klimt.
Adriennc Ragsdalc is currently working at the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame and Museum as the manager of educational programs in Texas. At the time of this lesson, she taught at Grandview-Hopkins Elementary.