I went to see Hilma af Klint yesterday at the Serpentine Gallery. I have known about her work for some time but never seen any before. This was a very rare opportunity to see a large amount of her work in one go and possibly this may never happen again. The whole exhibition was arranged in a way that Klint had desired her work to be viewed. A little bit along the lines of the Rothko Chapel in Houston.
As soon as you enter the exhibition you are confronted by three large abstract paintings with geometrical aspects. These paintings have a very psychedelic feel about them as though they may have been painted in the mid 60s. What is exceptional about these paintings was the time when they were made, the picture below, "Altarbild, nr 1, grupp X, serie Altarbilder," was actually painted in 1907. This was around the time that cubism was first being explored by Braque and Picasso but the work below looks much more recent than any of the works of cubism.
I suppose the oddest thing about these works is that they do not appear to reference anything that has gone before and this sets them outside of the traditional story of paintings progression. Klint along with the 4 other members of her group "de fem" (The Five) used techniques such as automatic writing and drawing and were closely associated with the Spiritualist Theosophy movement popular at that time. She did claim that she was commissioned to make all these paintings by a being called "Amaliel" who contacted her group through seances. Whether or not this is true we will probably never know but they certainly are remarkable works of art.
Its very hard to accurately assess work like this when it carries with it so much legend. When you come to terms with the fact that it appears to have no previous reference points you can start to see it for what it is. They are actually quite simple geometric abstractions that feature what are know traditional "spiritual" symbols such as the triangle, sun, the golden ratio and eye like forms such as the one below. They often appear to be painted in a very quick and fairly loose manner. The oil paint is often thinly applied leaving areas of the underlying canvas or paper coming through.
The highlight of the exhibition has to be the centre room that displays 8 paintings said to be representational of the four life stages of "man". Each stage is marked by 2 huge paintings. All of these paintings are actually quite child like with elements that obviously link back to Klint’s previous flower study works. They could also be called more whimsical than spiritual although they do contain lots of text and symbols; several symbols are related to the golden ratio but others I cannot identify.
What I took from this exhibition most of all was Klint’s utter belief in what she was doing. She felt that her work would not be accepted and held it back to only be shown after her death but actually these paintings have remained hidden up until 15 years ago hence there is little or no record of her in the traditional modernist art timeline. It goes to show that ultimately good work will probably always be accepted regardless of what it references or where it has been said to come from or be inspired by even if it has been channelled by an entity from a higher spiritual plane.