Sunday, 13 March 2016

Hilma af Klint

 ©Jerry Hardman-Jones
Hilma af Klint, Painting the Unseen at the Serpentine Gallery, ©Jerry Hardman-Jones 

An exhibition of Hilma af Klint's work is currently on show at the Serpentine Gallery in London (3rd March - 15th May 2016) and I count myself as incredibly fortunate to have been able to see it last week. It is a medium sized show, well curated but in my opinion it lacked information. I left the exhibition feeling a little frustrated that I didn't learn anything about Hilma. However, the inspiring nature of the exhibit meant that I ended up doing a bit of research once I got home. 

Hilma af Klint, Painting the Unseen at the Serpentine Gallery, ©Jerry Hardman-Jones 

Born in 1862, botanical artist and clairvoyant, Hilma af Klint, pretty much invented abstract painting back in 1910 (before Kandinsky!). However sadly her work is left out of the history books because it was never shown during her lifetime and remained hidden for years. This is thought to be because Rudolf Steiner, who was a friend that had similar philosophical and spiritual beliefs to Hilma, told her that the world was not ready for her work. Taking his advice on board she put a clause in her Will stating that her paintings could not be exhibited until many years after her death.  

Hilma af Klint, Painting the Unseen at the Serpentine Gallery, ©Jerry Hardman-Jones 

Entering the Serpentine was like entering a time capsule containing a hidden world - a world that remains to be hidden even after being put on display because of the nature of its subject. Through her paintings Hilma portrays a world that we feel we ought to know yet don't. Describing the fundamental laws of nature with symbols, colours and shapes Hilma reveals something primal and instinctive. As I walked around the show on a warm Spring day I felt that the hole in my experience on this plane was being slowly nourished and expanded upon. It felt like Hilma, who's birthday is so close to my own, had waited a hundred years to take my hand and guide me around at this very moment in my development. I think I will always be figurative, but I am starting to notice that in order to truly represent something one needs to come to terms with the object and its space and understand that you have to confront all of reality.  Even infinity takes form.

Uden titel, 1890, 57 x 35,4 cm

When Hilma was young and studying at the art academy, she mainly focused on botanical art and sold conventional landscapes and nature paintings, which is something that I find particularly interesting given my own background. You can see some of this type of work above. However, despite her focusing on the precise naturalism of the botanical world, it is clear looking at some of her study pages that she was also fascinated by their radical abstraction and their mathematical formulae. As I mentioned earlier, Hilma af Klint was preoccupied with spiritual pursuits throughout her life, and like some of Leonora Carrington's later works, her paintings evolved to become an exploration into spiritualism, the occult and alchemy. Claiming to paint in a state of higher consciousness, Hilma started to produce massive canvases imbued with supernatural significance.  

After seeing this show, it became evident that Hilma was an artist who was not only ahead of her time with respect to abstract painting, but also someone who inspired many later artists and anticipated many of the most prominent movements in modern art. I really recommend this show and to do a bit of reading. It really is quite amazing where some botanical artists end up! 


Hilma af Klint, Painting the Unseen at the Serpentine Gallery, ©Jerry Hardman-Jones 

You can read more here and there is a video of her work here:




1 comment:

  1. Fascinating. It is like she is playing with my senses. The straight lines and the curves seem to me to be dependant on each other. I also sense fibronacci at work in places.Thank you.

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