Is Hilma Af Klint the Mother of Abstract Art?
The story of Hilma Af Klint is truly a unique one. If we had to tell her story, we would need hundreds of pages to tell everything about her, starting from her early life until even after her death. Af Klint was not the kind of artist people talked about her during her life or ten or twenty years after her death, and her notoriety was after she died, like most painters. In this case, the difference was that she indeed knew when was the correct time to appreciate her and be rapt by her work.
Af Klint was born in Sweden in 1862. She studied Arts in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. She studied arts for seven years there, and after finishing her studies, she dedicated herself to paint landscapes and portraits for ten years.
Indeed she was a good painter. Most of her work is remarkable and widely known now, almost eighty years after her death. But, what happened with Hilma, that suddenly changed her direction regarding her painting style? To understand her work, it is necessary to talk about her interests, and the biggest one she had was her devotion to séances. These séances are rituals where people can communicate with higher souls and spirits from other dimensions.
Hilma met every week for ten years with a group of friends of her to contact these spirits. She and her other four friends started to make these realms and formed the group of The Five. In one of these sessions, Af Klint felt somehow instructed by these spirits, and that is how she started the "Paintings for The Temple" series. A collection of 193 paintings divided into different groups according to the story she intended to tell.
Her style was abstract, and how would not be abstract when we find all these curves, symbols, straight lines, and letters? Hilma was the kind of artist that was doing to transmit. Unfortunately, she felt that society was not ready to understand, not even dozens of years after painting them.
She had an exquisite technique and painting style. She used a combination of colours to talk through the paper. Many were not going to understand her since people were not ready to see this level of work.
In a world where abstract art started to become a movement, we cannot imagine what was happening in Hilma's head. Her interpretation of things was something beyond human reasoning at the time, and her society at the time was still too immature to see what she was projecting.
Af Klint used a wide range of colours, but predominantly she used blue for female forms, yellow for male ones, and green to emphasise the unity of both. She intended to transmit with her style, especially in her Primordial Chaos series, the connection between two opposite "poles", in this case, male and female and the reproduction of life, and how this was spiritually vital.
Another collection by Af Klint is "The Ten Largest". A series of paintings that describe all the stages of life. She started with early childhood, early adulthood, adulthood, and old age. This collection is a fantastic journey throughout her paintings to represent lif as such. Af Klint divided a cycle of human beings in ten marvellous pieces of work that we have here for you to see.
"Ten paradisiacally beautiful paintings were to be executed; the paintings were to be in colours that would be educational, and they would reveal my feelings to me in an economical way…. It was the meaning of the leaders to give the world a glimpse of the system of four parts in the life of man."
In this series, and especially this painting "Adulthood, No.7", a six squared meter image is interpretable what Klint intended to transmit. Some art historians claim that she intended to reproduce a flower coming up from a bulb as a transition to adulthood. Together with that, they think that all the plants, letters and numbers are a connection with Darwin's theories and the idea of mathematical progression.
The Dove collection is one where we can appreciate the relation between Klint and spiritualism at its best. In this series of paintings, the dove's imagery, the colour palette and the spiral are significant for the afterlife.
From her Altarpiece collection, we can see Hilma's work moving towards spiritualism and the connection between the unseen and the so-called real world. In this series, she worked with different elements such as triangles, circles, and straight lines.
Here it is more visible, although still abstract, how both worlds are connected and how she interpreted this during her sessions with The Five. In No.1, people can analyse our world's connection and the path to spiritualism and the connection to these other entities.
Understanding Hilda was not easy, and maybe that is why she mentioned that her paintings would not see the light until at least twenty years after her death (1944). We could be intrepid and say that society was not ready to understand what she was trying to communicate in those years. And maybe even now, we are still not mature enough to understand her.
Together with her works, Hilda Af Klint kept a journal where she detailed most of the things she painted. This journal was the explanation of her paintings but from her perspective of things.
Still, these are only interpretations. And art in general -especially abstract art- is all about what someone can interpret from some art pieces if we do not understand what the artist intended to communicate.
Almost eighty years have passed after her death, and people and critics still understand some of her messages to get the meaning of her artworks fully. Art historians have done most of it. Nevertheless, some axes are still not entirely decoded, or people do not give the same interpretations to what she truly meant. Who knows? Maybe to understand what Af Klint intended to communicate, we also need to have one of these encounters.
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Here we attach a couple more of motifs so you can see how they would look in a different backgrounds.