Hilma af Klint - A Pioneer of Abstraction

Before Piet Mondrian, Kazimir Malevich and Wassily Kandinsky, there was the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint. Who was she? The name sounds familiar, perhaps from a half-remembered conversation one evening, but one can never be sure.
She was a pioneering artist of abstract art, her conceptual images way ahead of their time. It was as if she was painting for a world yet to come, human understanding, even among artists and critics, still unable to fully appreciate, enjoy or understand non-figurative works.
This is the opinion of Moderna Museet in Stockholm, which has just launched a sweeping, colourful and expressive exhibition that argues Klint was so groundbreaking that she was effectively ahead of her contemporaries when it came to devising new ideas of what art can be.
The museum makes no mistakes about the importance of Klint, referring to her as a true radical, whose work was inspired by her interest in the divine side of life, including spiritualism, theosophy and anthroposophy.
“Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre builds on the awareness of a spiritual dimension of consciousness, an aspect that was being marginalised in an increasingly materialistic world” Moderna Museet explains.
“When she painted, she believed that a higher consciousness was speaking through her. In her astonishing works she combines geometric shapes and symbols with ornamentation. Her multifaceted imagery strives to give insights into the different dimensions of existence, where microcosm and macrocosm reflect one another.”
She was exceptionally prolific – leaving behind over 1,000 paintings, watercolours and sketches – yet remains a mysterious figure. Given that she was ahead of the curve, when abstract art really became visible, it was those that were right bang in the centre of activity that were naturally more visible.
It is easy therefore to forget when you’re preoccupied by something captivating, different and affecting in the moment. More so, in this context, when the likes of Mondrian and Kandinsky were delivering sublime masterpieces one after the other, you can’t help but be swept away. Still, it is never too late: history goes on and on.
“Hilma af Klint left behind a comprehensive and visually striking oeuvre,” observes the show’s curator Iris Müller-Westermann.
“Her works, produced in seclusion, are as powerful as they are enigmatic. Their complexity, scale, and consequence are astonishing. The artist unwaveringly explored new horizons at the outset of the twentieth century, a radical pioneer of an art that abandoned the depiction of the visible reality.”
As a female artist working in this very parochial age, Klint possessed a self-assurance that made her one of the leading artists of her generation, despite never quite receiving the full and just appreciation she should have been showed.
It couldn’t have mattered too much, especially to someone who valued the importance of art as a way of expressing and engaging with the world. Other people’s opinions matter and it is flattering to be held in high-esteem. But it never should inform your work. Klint believed in better things than kudos.
“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force,” she once said of her most important work. “I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brushstroke.”
Hilma af Klint – A Pioneer of Abstraction at Moderna Museet in Stockholm runs until May 26th 2013.
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