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Hilma af Klint

Updated: Jul 3, 2023

The less known pioneer of abstract art

I have always loved art from a young age, but never really liked abstract art. Probably because I could not understand the meaning, the intentions, the deeper place the authentic abstract art came from. Perhaps I was not mature enough. Only recently, I started to appreciate some of the abstract art.

One weekend, I decided to watch one of the episodes by Art History School on YouTube, and picked Hilma af Klint. I had never heard of her.

I studied graphic design before universities realized the computers were here to stay. So I designed posters and ads by hand, including typography. So Hilma's flat art with lines, shapes, and lots of colors are perceived by my brain as graphic design works. I know they didn't have such purpose as promotional / marketing materials, and the artist herself did not know what most of her paintings meant, but to me they are somehow relatable and attractive. Interestingly, the two other artists below, of whose artworks reminded me of Hilma's, wrote books I used as textbooks as a graphic design student. I cannot help but think some of Hilma's artworks will be in design textbooks in the future...

Hilma af Klint was born in 1862 in Sweden. At the age of 20, she enrolled at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, where she studied for 5 years and graduated with honors. She started her career by painting landscapes and portraits in a studio awarded to her by the academy.

Landscape painting depicting late summer, with a lake, golden field, and 5 large trees
Eftersommar (Late Summer) 1903 by Hilma af Klint

A collective automatic drawing by The Five, Hilma af Klint's spiritualist group .Credit: The Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm

Hilma af Klint had a strong interest in spirituality, and when Theosophical Society was founded in Stockholm in 1889, she soon became a member. She lead exercises in Automatic Writing (& drawing) decades before the Surrealists used the same idea and made it widely known.

Group I, Primordial Chaos (1906-1907) by Hilma af Klint at Guggenheim Museum

In 1906, at the age of 44, she began painting more abstract paintings comprised of geometric shapes, which were kept secret and only shown to a small group of friends. Because of this, Wassily Kandinsky's 1911 paintings had widely been considered the first abstract art. She died in 1944 at the age of 81, and left more than 1200 works of art, most of which were never publicly shown before her death. She is now considered the pioneer of the abstract art.

Parsifal Series Group II by Hilma af Klint, 1916

Homage to the Square by Joseph Albers, 1964 (?)

Die Begegnung by Johannes Itten, 1916

Guggenheim Museum's 2018 exhibition Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Group X Alterpiece No. 1 by Hilmt af Klint (photo via Wikimedia Commons)

Some of you lucky people can watch the documentary Beyond The Visible - Hilma af Klint, but not (yet) here in Australia. To see more of Hilma af Klint's work, check out Guggenheim Museum.




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