When I was still a girl (a phase of life, in truth, that lasted an extraordinary long amount of time), I loved Gustav Klimt's iconic painting of two lovers. One year, it was the cover of one of my journals. Another year, a planner. I carried a postcard of it among other favorite art, which I blue tacked on my university dormitory wall, later it traveled with me abroad as an exchange student, then across the world to the Philippines, and still sits among the things I have there. My college roommate Kiní presented me with a 1000-piece puzzle of it, which took over our dining room table in Berkeley over the course of one semester. When it was done, I framed it and hung it on the wall.
No painting moved me as much as The Kiss. It stirred in me something, reminded me of something I deeply desired. The colors and shapes, the two golden beings wrapped in each other's embrace came to mean, for me, the true meaning of love. Love was finding oneself in another, it was to surrender completely, to be lost in the ecstasy of being together. I was so full of such ideas about love; I wanted to "fall in love," to meet "the one." I found myself constantly preparing myself, constantly looking for my "soul mate."
A few years ago, when I decided it was high time to be less a girl and more a woman--I was past the age of 30, at this point, and still identified with being the former--I started to examine these deeply ingrained ideas of love. I was a romantic, but this had come with some pitfalls. There would always be magical Kiss-like moments, those potent exchanges where time seems to stop and everything turns shimmery and golden. I remember one such moment, walking up one of the vistas near Griffith Park Observatory in Los Angeles with my first true love, when he stopped me suddenly, asked me to look around as he held my hand and said, as he looked deeply into my eyes, "I want us to remember this moment." Then we kissed. It was wonderful and, of course, I remember it. But where was he now? What of that love, ingrained in my memory but which passed all too quickly.
Coming to Vienna, the home city of painter Gustav Klimpt meant making a visit to Belvedere Palace where the original painting is a part of the permanent collection. I knew I had to see it.
To stand before a painting I had loved for nearly three whole decades since the moment I first saw it is a feeling I will never be able to properly express. So much is lost when a painting is reproduced on a flat surface, what is three dimensional becomes compressed into two. The textures and colors, the scale, is never the same.
Seeing Picasso's "Guernica" or walking into Monet's actual garden in Giverny, were incredible art experiences that I'll never ever forget, but taking in the two lovers was deeply personal. I realized that no painting had been a part of my life like that, it reminded me of my youth, of my innocence, of my love stories and my patterns, and as my eyes traced Klimt's stroke marks I also recognized how much I had changed from that girl with all her funny and beautiful and somewhat convoluted ideas about love. The woman that stands before you now still believes in love but little desires to be lost in it, nor found in it either. Over the last few years, I have learned that love resides in me, no matter whether or not there is someone to enjoy, receive or witness it.
As I looked on with a fresh perspective, I saw that the painting was also different from how I had first perceived it. I did not see the same reckless abandon, a woman absorbed into love. I could see, instead, the harmonious balance between the painter's symbols, the masculine rectangular shapes that make up the man's robes and the feminine circular shapes blooming in her gown. He holds her but does not contain her. She holds him lightly, but there is no clinging, no desperation. His strength and her softness compliment each other, and through her and their union, golden love flows. It's subjective, of course, my reading of it, but this is how I experienced it over a week ago, standing in that gallery, mouth agape, eyes welling up with tears.
I am grateful to experience my favorite painting, but also to feel it in a different way. It's wondrous how time and its opportunities and challenges have led me back to this work of art, just at this moment, just when my ideas about love are changing and growing--how a kiss can grow when we grow ourselves, how love expands when we ourselves expand.