The following is an essay written by Lucy Ashworth, an Art Student in Scotland. I was humbled and thrilled by her eloquence, insight, and delighted by her ability to see what so many others miss about the subject of creative influence.
“Influence is inescapable. Whether the artist is aware of it or not, they constantly pick up inspiration from others, and a good artist uses this as an aid to their own work without copying the original artist. Absorbing and channelling the essence of what and who influences you is what shapes you as an artist and what makes your work unique. Refining the style, technique, or ideas of other artists that you admire and combining it with your own original skills and ideas over the course of your artistic career forms new styles, techniques, and ideas in themselves and is ultimately how art and design continues to progress. This process can be seen when we compare the work of contemporary artist Damian Chávez to that of Gustav Klimt.
1 Damian Chávez, Valerie, 2012
As collectors and admirers of “Art Deco”, Damian Chávez’s parents introduced him to the style in his youth, and this early influence is obvious in his work today. Born in 1976 in Los Angeles, Chávez went on to study art and history in Paris, Florence, Prague, Chicago, and California. His paintings, almost exclusively female portraits and figures, are rich with pattern and colour reminiscent of the Art Deco and Art Nouveau movements, as well as elements of Japonisme composition and detail. Likely the most obvious of his influences is Austrian symbolist painter Gustav Klimt; a leading artist in the progression of Art Nouveau and whose work was also largely inspired by Japonisme. Chávez borrows and stylises many of Klimt’s techniques, signature qualities, and ideas which can be shown when we compare works by the two artists. Looking at ‘Valerie’ (2012) by Chávez beside ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer’ (1907) by Klimt the most immediate similarity is pattern. The irregular repeated rectangle pattern can be found in multiple Klimt paintings and in ‘Valerie’ Chávez enlarges this pattern and uses primary colours, mainly blue tones, instead of Klimt’s lavish gold, black, and white to create an atmosphere of tranquillity and wistfulness with contrasting pops of red and yellow in the shapes to bring his subject forward from the background. Although Chávez leaves the edges unfinished unlike Klimt’s intricate and complete image he creates texture in the background with brushstrokes as if it were rich with detail, and the rectangle pattern can be seen again although
2 Gustav Klimt, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I, 1907
very subtly through shadows and highlights in the background. Both of the women featured in the paintings have a thoughtful and distant expression, however this is something Chávez continues in the overall atmosphere of the painting whereas “Klimt was largely unconcerned at this time with depicting his sitter’s character, and even less so with providing location and context” (The Art Story), he was more interested in the way he adorned them with gold and pattern. I think that this borrowing and simplifying of Klimt’s style works well as a modern portrayal of his influence.
Klimt’s influence continues to reveal itself in pieces like ‘The Three Graces’ (2010). Klimt was famous for his erotic portrayal of women through pose, composition, and use of colour, qualities that Chávez has taken elements from and used in his own depiction of women. Comparable to Klimt’s ‘Water Serpents II’ (1904), ‘The Three Graces’ shows a group of nude women surrounded by decorative pattern. The trio stand close together and almost wrap around each other, giving a very tactile feeling as all of their hands are visible where they hold onto each other, the fingers spread yet positioned delicately to emphasise their femininity. This positioning of the hands is a recognisable feature of Klimt’s work used to add to the delicate intricacy of his paintings. Another notable similarity are the slim and elongated bodies of the women. In both artist’s work the body type of the subjects are consistently thin, tall, pale women, with small breasts, and most often dark hair. Chávez says of his subject matter: “Using the feminine persona allows me a freedom not attainable by other means” (2015), I think that both Klimt and Chávez use women in their art to create beauty, elegance, and passion in a way that only a female subject can provide, and allows the artist to explore possibilities that they otherwise couldn’t without art. Women are exquisite creatures and so provide a beautiful image but the mystery and confidence that the characters portray creates depth and makes it an engaging piece. Techniques that Klimt has influenced in Chávez’s work are seen in the skin of the women; blue tinged outlining of the bodies, imperfect skin with visible brushstrokes and emphasised, streaky blushing cheeks add to the erotic
3 Damian Chávez, The Three Graces II, 2010
style of the paintings as it gives a raw and passionate feel. Klimt’s famous heavy use of gold can be found in Chávez’s ‘The Three Graces’ where it creates a feeling of ecstasy and bliss, mirrored in the pose and expressions especially of the woman in the centre. Her closed eyes, open mouth, and hand nearing her face are all gestures frequent in Klimt’s work to convey his character’s pleasure. Chávez utilises all of these features yet his piece differs from ‘Water Serpents II’ as he does not fill the painting with
4 Gustav Klimt, Water Serpents II, 1904
ornament. Instead the background is left empty as the focus is on the women, something difficult to find in Klimt’s rich and detail oriented work.
Although Chávez’s art occasionally appears extremely similar to Klimt’s the two artists differ in vision. Artist and writer Samuel Adoquei suggests in his book ‘Origin of Inspiration’ that all great artists require five attributes: inspiration, passion, talent, skill, and vision. “Vision” is individual, it is what the artist sees and wants to convey in their work, and they typically develop their own aesthetic style through their skill set and techniques to channel this vision. He goes on to say: “Style, when taken literally, can come across like vision, yet style and vision are miles apart. Style is like our signature. Style is the way the artist personally uses his materials. … An artist can therefore imitate another’s style in order to support his vision.”(2013). Though at times Chávez and Klimt’s work may seem similar, their visions are separate as they are two different people existing at entirely different times. Working partly in a way alike that of an artist you admire is influence, but to go so far as to force yourself to work exactly as they did where it is not your own honest and individual feelings, is copying.
However, influence may not be as obvious as style or technique. An artist may be inspired also by the ideas of another artist or stories that their work tells. Gustav Klimt’s painting ‘Danaë’ (1907) tells the tale from Greek mythology of Danaë, daughter of Acrisius. Locked in a tower by her father, Danaë is visited by Zeus who takes the form of golden rain and she becomes pregnant with his child, Perseus. From its title we can instantly tell that Chávez’s piece ‘Daughters of Jupiter’ (2014) is inspired by ‘Danaë’ as Jupiter is the Roman equivalent of Zeus. This title suggests that the painting is the direct product of ‘Danaë’’s influence, its offspring, or its ‘daughter’ even, as if in Klimt’s painting Danaë becomes pregnant and Chávez’s piece shows her daughters here in the 21st century. Although the story tells that she has a son – Perseus – and not two daughters, Chávez uses female characters as the piece almost represents a modern version of Klimt’s painting. He places the characters nude on a bed just like Danaë, and though their poses are similar to Danaë, when you look closer they seem more tranquil and as if they are resting, whereas Danaë lies curled up in pleasure and arousal. In his painting, Chávez takes inspiration from Klimt’s use of pattern and updates it, he makes it cleaner and simpler by refining the shapes used and turning them into tidier, modern black and white patterns with pops of primary colours. This work is a clear example of an artist having developed their influences through their earlier work and now refining and
making them their own. Chávez does bring Klimt’s gold into this painting as it symbolises Jupiter/Zeus’s appearance to Danaë as golden rain, although it is more similar to that of Klimt’s piece ‘Judith II’ (1909). He provides solid golden strips at the sides of the piece to reference the original story yet keeping it looking cleaner and more minimal than Klimt’s style.
6 Gustav Klimt, Judith II, 1909
For an artwork to be entirely original is impossible. You are influenced by what you see and experience every day and it somehow enters into your work whether you are conscious of it or not, and through Damian Chávez’s work we can see how an artist takes his influence and utilises and develops it as he himself develops as an artist. Gustav Klimt’s influence on Chávez is clear in his subject matter, style, and technique, however Chávez offers a modern and personalised version of these qualities. The way that he updates these attributes is an example of the process that art and design requires to be able to continue, and appropriately addresses use of influence in a way which displays admiration to the original artist.
Adoquei, S. (2013). Origin of Inspiration. 2nd ed. New York: Samuel Adoquei, pp.27, 47, 48.
Bade, P., Rogoyska, J. and Klimt, G. (2011). Gustav Klimt. New York: Parkstone International, p.144.
Chavez, D. (2016). Damian Chávez – Oil VS acrylic versions of “Three Graces”,… | Facebook. [online] Facebook.com. Available at: https://www.facebook.com/DamianChavezArt/photos/a.398720080235948.1073741826.398716586902964/887527311355220/?type=1&theater [Accessed 19 Feb. 2016].
Chavez, D. (2016). Support Damian Chavez creating Traditional fine art : Drawings – Paintings – Art Instruction. [online] Patreon. Available at: https://www.patreon.com/damianchavez?ty=h [Accessed 15 Feb. 2016].
Chávez, D. (2014). Damian Chávez. [online] Pictify. Available at: http://pictify.saatchigallery.com/user/DamianChavezArt [Accessed 8 Feb. 2016].
Chávez, D. (2015). Paintings | Voluptvaria. [online] Voluptuaria.wordpress.com. Available at: https://voluptuaria.wordpress.com/category/paintings/ [Accessed 10 Feb. 2016].
Chávez, D. (2016). Bio. [online] DAMIAN CHÁVEZ. Available at: http://www.damianchavez.com/bio.html [Accessed 10 Feb. 2016].
Klimt Museum, (n.d.). Judith II (Salome) 1909 Gustav Klimt Painting. [online] Available at: http://www.klimt.com/en/gallery/women/klimt-judith2–salome-1909.ihtml [Accessed 21 Feb. 2016].
The Art Story, (2012). Gustav Klimt Biography, Art, and Analysis of Works. [online] Available at: http://www.theartstory.org/artist-klimt-gustav.htm [Accessed 12 Feb. 2016].
Wikipedia, (2016). Jupiter (mythology). [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jupiter_(mythology) [Accessed 17 Feb. 2016].”