'The Kiss' Remixed

How contemporary artists are reimagining 'The Kiss' through VR and more

By Google Arts & Culture

The Kiss (1908-1909) by Gustav KlimtBelvedere

Gustav Klimt famously used gold-leaf and real silver in his paintings. He was no stranger to innovative use of materials. 

'The Kiss', as well as many other famous works by Klimt, use a strange texture that shifts between flat, patterned, two-dimensional space...

...and more ‘classically’ painted three-dimensional faces. This was a bold artistic step, and paved the way for cubism and abstract expressionism. 

Klimt was in many ways a trailblazer. So if he was creating his iconic work today, do you think he would have done anything different? 

The Kiss by Estella Tse

What would he have thought about the relationship between art and technology? VR artist Estella Tse poses just that question with her VR version of ‘The Kiss’, bringing Klimt’s sumptuous approach to image-making into contact with the most cutting-edge tech.

“I have a knack for following innovation and blending my passions with art and technology. I have a background in visual design for entertainment and UI/front-end web development. In 2015, I was searching for a new way to tell stories,” says Tse.

“Because of the inherent nature of VR, where there is literally another dimension to painting, it creates a new medium where depth and physical space become major components to the artistic medium. Painting in VR is like sculpting with strokes.”

The Kiss by Estella Tse

A kind of inter-dimensional feel was important to Klimt in his own time, so it’s safe to assume that he’d be very interested in this application of his principles. 

And even while she innovates, Tse acknowledges her debt to her predecessors. “As a painter, we learn the most by following the masters,” she says. 

Woojin Choi The Kiss

But contemporary artists are not afraid to change and adapt the work of those who influenced them. Woojin Choi is a tattoo artist of increasing renown, and recently created his own version of ‘The Kiss’ with his needle. The image went viral online, and Choi’s work has gained immense popularity on Instagram.

The tactile feel of Klimt’s original work, its physical intimacy, lends itself to this inked interpretation.

Tattoos are known for being permanent. But they’re only as permanent as the body on which they’re drawn. Like Klimt’s painting, made as the 20th century ushered in a new Modern age, tattooing is both timeless and a reminder of time’s passing. A monument and a memento mori.

“I started tattooing as a hobby in college,” Choi says. His chosen medium is “special in the scarcity of materials,” and in its monochrome palette. This is why he turned to Klimt’s painting, “Because the original shadow is very beautiful.”

And, like Tse, Choi is attracted to Klimt’s work not only because of its mastery and influence, but because it feels adaptable and contemporary. As Choi says, “it can be transformed into many more different forms.”

The Kiss by Estella Tse

Tse also touches upon this issue of transforming the original work. “As I was painting the couple, when a third dimension is included, it actually felt like the male figure was too assertively looming over the woman. It felt almost threatening.

I had to make some adjustments to the composition so it would dispel any signs of aggression. I had to soften the edges a bit more, move the woman literally more to the foreground so she wouldn’t be completely engulfed by the man’s grasp.”

Gustave Klimt's The Kiss,(Freedom Graffitti) (2013) by Tammam AzzamAtassi Foundation for Art and Culture

In being transformed, Klimt’s art can also transcend many different boundaries. Tammam Azzam is a Syrian artist whose work responds unflinchingly to his country’s ongoing conflict, the local and global significance of such unrest.

Recently his digital work, showing ‘The Kiss’ photoshopped to appear on the wall of a bombed-out Syrian building, became an internet viral-sensation. “I have always been a fan of Klimt. I was introduced to his work and read about his life when I was at university,” Azzam says.

“I found an emotional connection with his artwork. The way he used strong colours and the contrast between them is very effective, and it helped me convey the idea that I had in mind.”

“I think the stark contrast between ‘The Kiss’, which represents love and life...  

...and the destroyed building behind it, which reveals the ugliest about humanity, was an effective way to make people think not just about the people who used to live in that building but also about the situation in Syria.” 

“‘The Kiss’ is an expression of love and an affirmation of life and I saw in it the liveliness and the loveliness of the people who used to live in the destroyed building behind it.”

Calligrapher Seb Lester

Klimt's complex patterning across a flat surface, his movement between three- and two-dimensional registers, has inspired contemporary calligrapher, Seb Lester, to create lettering in the fin de siècle style as part of his ongoing Instagram project. 

Scroll on to see Seb's pen in action.

Seb Lester x Klimt 1

Seb Lester x Klimt 2

Gustav Klimt (c. 1910) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

And how might Klimt himself react if he could see the work of these young artists, inspired by his own creations? 

“It is hard to think what he would say,” says Azzam. “I hope he would appreciate the way his artwork has been used. But I am sure he wouldn’t be happy about the situation of the world at the moment.”

Gustav Klimt (1917) by Moriz NährAustrian National Library

“I’m not sure!” replies Tse. “I certainly would and could never compare myself to the masters. It’s hard to imagine what he would say. I’m certain if he had VR technology, he’d be creating worlds beyond our modern imagination.”

Explore more about Klimt’s influence on Klimt vs. Klimt.

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