"Inspiration has a strange way of finding you,” says photographer Rohit Chawla, who pays tribute to Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt in his latest exhibition of works — Klimt - The Sequel.
Chawla recreates the glint of gold and the aura of feminine sensuality that marked the works of Klimt, down to the details of texture and fabric. Part of his series on past masters, that started with a calendar of images inspired by paintings of Raja Ravi Varma, this series of works too was commissioned as part of Bird Group’s annual photographic art calendar.
Close to 20 beautiful women, including actress Chitrangada Singh, Ayesha Thapar, model Tejuswini Chowdhury, socialite Priya Chatwal, and the artist’s wife, Saloni, posed as models for recreations of some of Klimt’s greatest paintings — including his most famous work, Adele Bloch-Bauer I, that sold for $135 million in 2007, making Klimt the most expensive European artist at the time.
“After Raja Ravi Varma, I had Klimt on my walls,” says Chawla, recalling how he was completely taken by the painting at the Neue Galerie in New York. Thus began his journey of recreating Klimt.
Working closely with him on the project was 70-year-old master craftsman Manoranjan Mukherjee, who created the clothes and the backdrop, matching Klimt’s canvasses colour for colour.
“The gowns were made in canvas and plaster of Paris. Every embellishment was done to create a relief effect in order to give thephotograph a 3D effect...we literally had to airdrop Chitrangada into the dress,” says Chawla. “The sets were made of fiberglass and thermocol, and we tried to retain the fluidity of the paintings. Klimt was an artist; he wasn’t restricted by perspective or geometry, but these are restraints we had to consider. Only someone as brilliant as Mukherjee could achieve this.”Curiously, while Klimt often stirred controversy for the sinuous quality of his women and the nudity in the paintings (he was even accused of pornography), Chawla has played it safe in his works. "I did shoot the paintings in the original form as well, but I may exhibit those when the exhibition travels to Vienna. I did not want to evoke the ire of any self-proclaimed moral activist, but also, a photograph is very different from a painting, so even that has to be considered." The exhibition is on attheVisual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, till January 20.