May 2016

Hilma af Klint; perhaps the most interesting and important artist you’ve never heard of, until only very recently.

Having caught the public’s attention in 2013 with her solo show at Moderna Museet in Stockholm, London’s Serpentine Gallery has recently held host to the Swedish enigma from the early twentieth century. This week on the blog we take a look back over af Klint’s exhibition at The Serpentine Gallery.

Born in 1862, af Klint was born into an affluent bourgeois protestant family and attended the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm and soon made her name as an accomplished, but unadventurous, portrait, landscape and botanical artist. However, by the late 1870s she had started to dabble in séances and soon developed an interest in the occult. She began to reject traditional representation, instead used her acute observational skills to depict unseen worlds hidden within nature, science, the spiritual realm and the occult.

From the late 1880s af Klint had established a group with four other female artists, De Fem; collectively, and privately, they conducted séances which lead to experiments with automatic writing and drawing. They were several decades ahead of the Surrealists yet relatively unheard of.

The Serpentine’s exhibition set to reveal some of af Klint’s greatest, most extraordinary occult-inspired works, The Paintings for the Temple. Said to have been commissioned by a spirit entity in 1905 who exclaimed “you are to proclaim a new philosophy of life and you yourself are to be a part of the new kingdom. Your labours will bear fruit”, af Klint’s works are highly expressive, wonderfully mysterious and aim to understand and communicate the many dimensions of human existence, beyond what the eye can see.

Her works are not modest in size, rather the body of the exhibition includes two-and-a-half meter high paintings made up of primal geometric forms, circles and triangles, though beside their strident primaries, her colours are softer, the feel of her images more poetic. Especially striking are the eight giant tempera paintings taken from a group of works called The Ten Largest, made in 1907, which measure over 10 feet tall and are devoted to presenting the four ages of man in a rich vocabulary of obscure but recognisably organic forms. The works are painted methodically and are characterised by hybrid images and symbols drawn from her engagement with contemporary science and esoteric religious philosophies.

Af Klint’s works are timelessly enigmatic which makes it hard to believe they were created as long ago as 1915. And much like her works, af Klint is a timelessly enigmatic artist shrouded in extraordinary mystery; an enigma, a modern fountain of highly spiritualised creative energy.