beyond the visible: hilma af klint
Above shows a typical installation of Hilma Af Klint's very early abstract series. I believe this is the series done in 1906. Very early. She is being credited as an early pioneer of abstract art. I am happy to go along with that. I am lukewarm about the pieces above, but truly admire a lot of her work after seeing the documentary "Beyond the Visible: Hilma Af Klint".
This is more like it. This is "Gruppe III nr. 5" from 1907. This composition is very harmonious and tiiiiiight. This piece doesn't need the symbolism to be successful, but af Klint attributed maleness to yellow and femaleness to blue. I only mention it because this is before Kandinsky published "Concerning the Spiritual in Art" in 1911. I'm not saying that af Klint invented this idea. These ideas must have been wafting through the air of spiritualist salons like ectoplasm.
Added on 6/15/20-- A couple of days after writing this post I learned about "Thought Forms" a Theosophical text written by Leadbeater and Annie Besant two of the biggest names in Theosophy after Blavatsky. As an artist and Theosophy adherent, it is thought that Hilma af Klint was influenced by this publication. It is going to be reissued November of 2020, but I found a .pdf here:
I guess what I am getting at is that you do not need to write her off as a spiritualist medium. Much of the work stands on its own and is groundbreaking. Her work is diminished where she incorporates overt symbolism and mystical glyphs. I like a lot of visionary art, but, in my opinion, the best mystical art resembles a Rothko more than a tarot card.
Shown above: "Primordial Chaos" series, 1906-1907. Good, but diminished by mystical glyphs and writing.
From the documentary, it is clear that Hilma af Klint was very well educated, intellectual, and must have had access to science journals or periodicals. She painted about cutting-edge discoveries in physics and biology. It may have been a symbol borrowed from a Theosophy diagram but she has a double helix in one of her paintings. (Which if you want to entertain it, could be a little spooky because she died in 1941.)
Her questioning mind is what I like the best in her work. Over 100 years later, I am exploring and celebrating some of these same concepts in my own work.
Formally, she was a very precocious artist. Especially in her Swan Series. I think that series alone would qualify her as a significant artist of the 20th century. It has everything. She does all kinds of amazing abstract things in that series. She plays with duality. In some of the pieces I feel like the future Salvador Dali is in the next studio over. She approaches op art in many of her works too:
"Swan no. 13" AKA "staggering work of genius" (note: no glyphs)
I was watching the documentary and when the film started flipping through the Swan series I couldn't believe how contemporary it looked. This series looks like it was made today. The images below are in order of how they were numerically titled. I am assuming these are a chronological progression. The best part is you can find more of them on line. (including at least one where the swans are getting it on)
The documentary mentions that she made around 1500 paintings. I glimpsed what looked like a multi-volume boxed Hilma af Klint catalogue raisonne. I would like to spend an afternoon with that studying her works in series. Especially the Tree series, more of the Swan series and the Dove series.
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