Hilma af Klint: Manifesting Abstract Spirituality

In 1986, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art gave the first major exhibition of the abstract art of Hilma af Klint. Af Klint, a Swedish artist, had been born in 1862 and died in 1944, and none of her abstract works had been seen in public during her lifetime. In fact, as she reached the end of her life, she has specified that her works not be shown until at least 20 years after her death. Because of this request, it took even longer before the art world saw and understood the impressive nature of her creativity, for some of her abstract works predate those of Kandinsky, deemed “the Father of Abstract Art.”

Abstract in Private

The summers of Hilma af Klint’s early life had been spent at the family farm on the island of Adelso in Sweden. This close contact with nature affected the content of the portraits and landscapes she painted during her professional life, paintings that gave her an income that supported her as she also worked on her abstract works in private. Her early display of artistic talent had led her to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm. During her time there, she met Anna Cassel, the first of the group of five friends (all women) who shared her ideas about painting.

Visualizing the Spiritual

"Altarpiece No. 1, Group X" by Hilma af Klint

“Altarpiece No. 1, Group X, Altarpieces” by Hilma af Klint, 1907

Af Klint’s fascination with the spiritual dimension of life began in 1880 when her younger sister Hermina died. Hilma and the others of “The Five” shared interests in mystical thought and spiritualism, and worked to find a way to express these discussions and considerations into their art. For Af Klint, this led her toward using patterns resembling geometric designs to capture the concepts inspiring her private paintings.

Articulating Abstract Art

For some who are fixated on the history of abstract art, it was disconcerting to learn that af Klint’s first abstract work is dated 1906, five years before Kandinsky’s public abstract work appeared. But af Klint’s working toward her abstract visual “language” is more indicative of the general development of artists toward the exploration of new ways of communicating inner thoughts, feelings and concerns, ways that could circumvent the conventional representational forms.

The importance of Hilma af Klint in the consideration of abstract art lies not just in the actual works she compiled privately, a body that comprises over 1200 paintings and 100 texts, but the depth of her considerations that are manifested in her abstract art. By keeping them from the public eye until well after her death, she could develop her style and intentions unaffected by the pressures of critics in the Art World.

Reaching Outward

"Dark Wind" by Diana Hobson

“Dark Wind” by Diana Hobson, 2011

For many abstract artists, the effects of criticism can be challenging. Breaking out of boxes, pushing the envelope in their development, and then reacting to critics who don’t understand the artist’s intentions can distract them from their purposes. Af Klint focused on finding ways to express spiritual meaning. Other abstract artists dwell on other aspects of internal life as they create their works. Diana Hobson strives to make the viewer of her paintings feel emotions, cutting directly to the emotive expression by avoiding representational imagery. Her work is a way of having the inner emotion reach outward to the viewer. More of Hobson’s works can be seen at her private studio in Venice, California.

NOTES:

“Altarpiece No. 1, Group X, Altarpieces,” by Hilma af Klint, 1907. Copyright Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk. This reproduction is included here under Fair Use Practices for the purpose of instruction and information.

“Dark Wind” by Diana Hobson, 2011. Copyright Diana Hobson. Used by permission.

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