David Carrier reviews the book Hilma af Klint: The Art of Seeing the Invisible, edited by Kurt Almqvist and Louise Belfrage (Ax:son Johnson Foundation, 2015).
Although finding certain aspects of the text wanting, Carrier concludes "Perhaps ... to understand af Klint we need to avoid a rigid distinction between spiritualist diagrams and abstract painting. After all, Renaissance altarpieces, which originally served sacred functions, nowadays are treated as works of art and so placed in museums."
Altoon Sultan blogs about the paintings of Hilma Af Klint.
Sultan writes: "The seeds of this work was in a spiritualist group that she and four women friends formed in the 1890s, called The Five, where they would practice automatic drawing. A spiritualist medium was one profession in which women excelled and were respected. And lest you scoff, dear readers, during that time it was a widespread practice; even such a pragmatic thinker as William James engaged in seances. There was a desire to reach the world beyond our merely physical one... ....the form, the color, the intricate drawing were passed to her from one of her spirit guides. She was a pure medium, changing nothing, working directly, through the years 1906-1908; from 1912-15 she had some discretion in her painting. Would she have ever made these marvelous paintings, so full of light and color, with such inventive form, if she hadn't felt she'd been guided?"
Matthew Collings conducts a fictional "interview" with painter Hilma Af Klint.
Colling's Af Klint notes: "if you’re a painter you spend a lot of time getting things right, getting forms to be efficient so that whatever you’re hoping to get across can have a chance of being coherent, of actually communicating to someone. You’re basically narrowing down to a very visual priority.... The trouble is, no one has yet taken the trouble to see my paintings in this ‘seeing-through’ way... But when [biographical/historical] narrative is the only focus of the art experience, the experience of painting – this discipline with its tangible realities, its materiality, its forms and colours – then there is a lack of understanding of what the experience is really about, and if you don’t understand that then you’re not really having the experience, you’re going through the motions only."
Di Marzo writes: "In an age when men claimed primary status as creators, af Klint became a medium – the ultimate passive, receptive state – and used it to secure her independence; to be more than a copyist and decorator. At a time when strong spiritual currents like Theosophy, which adherents considered a science rather than a religion, achieved cult status, she studied a variety of wisdom traditions from the East and West along with Theosophy and Anthroposophy, without rejecting her Lutheran heritage and living by her own ascetic regimen. So, with the jury still out, it remains for the great force behind af Klint’s all-encompassing vision to speak for itself in a language she created, swiftly and surely, to explore the furthest reaches of human awareness."
Julia Voss examines Hilma af Klint's background and her emergence as the first European abstract painter, a title famously claimed by Kandinsky.
Voss writes: "When Wassily Kandinsky wrote to his New York gallerist Jerome Neumann in December 1935, he was clearly anxious to reassure him once again that he had painted his first abstract picture in 1911... To be acknowledged as having produced the first abstract painting had become a highly coveted prize. Which modern artist could claim that prize was still being fought over. The other leading candidates were František Kupka, Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich. What Kandinsky did not know is that a Swedish painter by the name of Hilma af Klint had created her first abstract painting in her Stockholm studio in 1906, five years before him. What’s more, she had taken the same path towards abstraction. Without knowing of each other’s existence, the two artists seem to have travelled for a long way like two trains on the same tracks. Klint arrived before Kandinsky."
The subject of a rare retrospective exhibitinon at the Moderna Museet, Hilma Af Klint was a pioneering abstract painter and one of the most enigmatic artists of the 20th century.
In the following video, Gertrud Sandqvist gives an informative, in depth lecture on the visionary painter. Sanqvist draws on unprecedented access to the artist's work and journals in her presentation of Af Klint's life, career, and spiritual approach to art. Working outside the European avant garde, Af Klint's abstract paintings pre-date the first abstractions of more well known modernist painters. This development is all the more striking because, as Sandqvist notes:
"[Hilma Af Klint] had no relationship to any other avant garde circles, being completely isolated in Stockholm at that time… her imagery is very, very similar - close to what later Malevich, Mondrian, and Kandinsky... were developing... [the] first abstract work that she was making was in 1907, two years before Kandinsky."
Sandqvist notes that the rediscovery of Hilma Af Klint's work began in earnest at the 1987 exhibition The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985 at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. That it took decades for her work to appeal to the public would not have surprised Af Klint according to Sandqvist:
"Hilma Af Klint's work was… esoteric, that means it wasn't shown during her lifetime. She herself in her last will said that this is 'for the future,' this is the message for humanity for the future."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.