This year London’s renowned Serpentine Gallery opened its doors showcasing the works of little known Swedish painter Hilma af Klint. Her bewildering art shows she understood non-figurative representations, abstract symbols and cosmic entities long before Kandinsky or Mondrian graced the worlds canvases. Although this is a woman who lived and died in obscurity (1862-1944), she finally is getting the recognition she deserves for her contribution to abstract modernism.
Hilma af Klint was a student of the Royal Academy of Arts, Stockholm, from which she graduated in 1885 as a classical painter. She then moved to the countryside where she first focused on landscapes and portraits, before taking a more alternative route.
Together with four other female artists, around the turn of the 20th Century, she created “De Fem” – a group who used to meet once a week to experiment with automated writing, drawing and occult practices. In 1906, Klint received a commission from an entity called Amaliel asking her to depict the “immortal aspect of men”. She accepted and over a period of ten years she painted as many as 193 artworks, which are now known as the “Painting for the Temple” series. Transcendental meditation and the use of psychedelics like LSD were amongst the activities that allegedly fueled her work.
Hilma af Klint was way ahead of her time. Records also show she drew the double helix 40 years before Francis Crick won a Nobel Price for discovering the structure of the DNA molecule. (Last painting in the gallery below – “What a Human Being Is circa. 1910).
At the time, being a female and a lesbian was accepted neither in the art world nor in mainstream society and when she died in 1944, she stipulated in her will that her work should not be shown until 20 years after her death.
It was only in 2013, after a highly successful retrospective at the Moderna Museet in Sweden and after Acne Studios reappropriated her work for a fashion line, that word finally started to leak out to the world.
Klint gives us a chance to grasp a world beyond three dimensions, and with paintings blurring the porous frontiers between art and science, her work still has a relevant meaning in today’s world.
Photos credit: Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen Installation view/ Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones