Not many have heard of Hilma af Klint (1862-1944). A Swedish painter, a contemporary of Piet Mondrian, with an abstract vocabulary that the world was not ready for. Hers is the typical story of the artist ahead of their time. The so-called gatekeepers of the art world back then largely ignored her and she barely sold a few of her works. She started off her career like any other traditionally trained artist, making landscapes using watercolours. Soon her oeuvre would completely change and would bring her posthumous recognition as the original inventor of abstract art forms; a position claimed and held by Kandinsky thus far.
As a mystic and clairvoyant af Klint made pieces (1906 and after) that she believed were commissioned by her spiritual guides. She also maintained that her works were radically different and not suitable for the age they were made in and hence may not find acceptance in a not-yet spiritually evolved populace. She developed a visual vocabulary of triangles, circles, spirals and squares to express the human spiritual evolution and condition.
Tate Modern has curated an exhibition ‘Forms of Life’ drawing a parallel in the works of af Klint and Mondrian, dedicating spaces for shared themes in their works and for their individualistic expressions. Although the artists did not know each other, this beautifully structured exhibition explores both artists right from their traditional works through their nascent stages of abstraction to explosive expressions culminating in af Klint’s The Ten Largest.
The meticulous research and genius of the curators include the smallest details to the biggest influences of the artists such as their creative circles to the invention of many new technologies of their time like the microscope, radiography and photography.
The exhibition includes works that were made during a time when these inventions were challenging the general perception of life itself. The curators urge the viewer to not see their works as a “violent rejection of natural appearances” but as a “natural way of thinking through nature.”
Back to af Klint, her story is perhaps the story of most artists especially women artists. It is important as a society to be willing to acknowledge the role art plays in our lives, in our evolution.
To try and bracket all expressions to fit into the convenience of our meagre life experiences means stagnation. And stagnation is a kind of spiritual death. We are surrounded by beautiful people and art. Do not wait to converse with an artwork or an artist and see where it takes you.
Stagnation is a kind of spiritual death. We are surrounded by beautiful people and art. Do not wait to converse with an artwork or an artist and see where it takes you.