Trees have long been a cross-cultural symbol of growth and connectivity. Even Charles Darwin famously used the Tree of Life metaphor in On the Origin of Species to describe the phylogenetic pathways of evolutionary descent, drawing upon the iconology of roots and branches in the distension and extension of life. Thus, it is no surprise that trees grace many works of art from the Symbolism movement of the late nineteenth-century, an era where ideals were “clothe[d] […]in a perceptible form”, and realism was rejected in favour of imagination and spirituality. One prominent Symbolist at the time was Austrian painter Gustav Klimt (1862 – 1918), famed for his paintings, murals, and sketches of female figures in gold paint. It was during this “Golden Phase” of his career that he completed The Tree of Life (1905), the only landscape of his during this period. Commissioned by the Palais Stoclet in Brussels, Belgium, this masterpiece features the eponymous tree displayed as the centre mosaic, with a female figure standing at each side.
It is from this mural that we draw inspiration for this issue of IMMpress, which explores the physiological and sociological implications of aging. We pay homage to Klimt, representing his tree with its branches extending, spiraling, and undulating – mirroring the length and complexity of life – as it reaches towards the sky while remaining rooted in the earth where life begins and ultimately retires. We also portray the two female figures – but with a twist. On the one hand, we depict a stark dichotomy: the older woman on the left is done in traditional coloured pencils and watercolours, while her younger self on the right is the product of digital media. Through this transition, as well as the reversal of the typical aging chronology, these figures convey the promise and progression of anti-aging and life-extending technologies. On the other hand, however, the figures are strikingly similar. Resplendent in colour beneath the Tree of Life, both women are defiantly optimistic in the face of mortality, reflecting the important truth that strength, wisdom and beauty can be found – and celebrated – at any age.