In 1880, when Hilma af Klint was 18, she watched her 10-year-old sister Hermina die of the flu. Their father was a Swedish naval commander, and her family had spent the summers exploring the rocky hills of the island of Adelsö on Lake Mälaren, just west of Stockholm. There, Hilma nurtured her interests in botany, mathematics, Darwinism, physics and music. The loss of her sister also opened the door to inquiring into the spirit world.
Hilma studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, supporting herself with landscape and portrait work and illustrating a volume of medical diagrams for a veterinarian. Because her grandfather had been a nautical cartographer, Hilma drifted fluidly between the nuances of academic painting and illustration, technical drawing and diagrams. Spiritually, she dove into the philosophical societies and mysticism that were growing in popularity among some artists and thinkers of the late 19th century, including the Theosophy of Madame Blavasky and Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophical Society.
In 1896, Hilma and four other artists began meeting regularly to hold séances and practice automatic drawing. They called their group “The Five,” and Hilma began taking detailed notes and cataloguing a geometric colour-coded visual language that might make visible the components of the astral plane. Eventually, “The Five” summoned what they believed were a collection of spirit guides they named “The High Masters,” who called for the artists to make paintings that could go into a temple. When the others declined, in 1906 Hilma quietly went to her studio to begin.
In 1908, at age 46, Hilma made 111 paintings, many of them gouache on paper, the ten largest hovering at 10 x 8-feet. Believing that she’d channelled the work without much intellectual interference or planning, she invited Rudolph Steiner, who was lecturing in Stockholm that year, to come to her studio to interpret. The paintings were unable to be defined, unrecognizable and uncategorized. Steiner, wary of Hilma’s reluctance to take responsibility for the creation of them, suggested she not show them but, instead, keep them hidden for 50 years. Hilma stopped working and began caring for her mother, who was going blind. After four years, she picked up her brush again, and by 1915 had completed 193 “Paintings For A Temple.”
PS: “The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings, and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brush stroke.” (Hilma af Klint)
Esoterica: When she died in 1944 at the age of 81, Hilma, who never married or had children, bequeathed 1,200 paintings, 100 texts and 26,000 pages of notes to her nephew Eric, an Admiral of the naval fleet. Eric, less intimately familiar with the astral plane, still lovingly rolled up the contents of Hilma’s studio and put them in his un-insulated attic. Having stipulated in her Will that nothing be shown for twenty years, Hilma’s work was finally presented to the public in the mid-1980s, startling art scholars when they realized that her mystical colour-theory abstractions from 1907 onward pre-dated Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. These artists, up until that moment, had been universally accepted as the fathers of modern abstraction.
“Every work of art is the child of its time, while often it is the parent of our emotions.” (Wassily Kandinsky)
Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future is on view at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City until April 23, 2019.
“Life is a farce if a person does not serve truth.” (Hilma af Klint)
Six days in the Near North of Ontario Canada. Killarney and the La Cloche Mountains were a favourite location the Group of Seven visited to paint. Rugged, with granite cliffs thrusting hundreds of feet out of the water. Northern forest, islands, bald rocks and only accessible by boat. We travel to most locations on a sturdy pontoon boat. Whether it’s setting up on a rock face, a low lying island, or sitting at the base of a waterfall, every view is worth capturing. You stay in rustic cabins, each with its own cooking facilities. There is a large room we can paint in if the weather turns against us. Your instructor is Keith Thirgood who has been teaching adults to paint for 12 years. He will show you a step by step approach to painting en plein air, which makes capturing a scene easier than you might have thought possible. He’ll also teach Modern Colour Theory with a limited palette, which makes colour mixing easy.
For more information, visit www.wilsonstreetstudios.com.