HILMA AF KLINT: Beyond the Visible #2

Hilma af Klint and four other women who were members of the Edelweiss Society established their own spiritualist group called “The Five.”
The Five met regularly between 1896 and 1907. The spiritual contacts were verbally expressed by the group’s medium, as well as by automatic scriptures and drawings. The Five recorded these sessions in a series of notebooks.
Seance Room of “The Five”. Hilma af Klint and four other women who were members of the Edelweiss Society established their own spiritualist group called “The Five.” The Five met regularly between 1896 and 1907. The spiritual contacts were verbally expressed by the group’s medium, as well as by automatic scriptures and drawings. The Five recorded these sessions in a series of notebooks.

We have been waiting a long time for the release of the cinema documentary Jenseits des Sichtbaren – Hilma af Klint (Beyond the Visible – Hilma af Klint) playing as of 5 March in Berlin. Hilma af Klint (1862-1944), the Swedish pioneer of abstract art, is undoubtedly one of the most important and outstanding personalities and painters of the 20th century.

A Contamination of the soul

HILMA AF KLINT: Beyond the Visible #2 1

It seems just yesterday I first came across her work on a postcard at Munich’s Haus der Kunst.

I was fascinated, startled and intrigued all at the same time in a déjà vu feeling of having seen the painting before although I never had.

I turned over the postcard of the famous painting Altarpiece, No. 1, Group X from 1915 and found myself murmuring the name as if in trance:

Hilma af Klint.

Sounds all a bit mystical?

In hindsight it wasn’t.

Altar pictures, Group X, no. 1. Altar picture, 1915 Oil and sheet metal on canvas 237,5x179,5 cm HAK187 © The Foundation Hilma af Klint’s Works

As Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre dissolves all boundaries, whether visual, mental or spiritual, and it penetrates us directly.

Imagine the blood from an inoculation turning a piece of white gauze red. Although the weave can still be seen, the gauze is no longer the same, and even when you wash it, traces of the blood remain. It is the same with the art of Hilma Af Klint.

A contamination of the soul, if you will.

Hilma af Klint, Untitled , 1920. Photo by Albin Dahlström, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm and the Guggenheim Museum.
Hilma af Klint, Untitled , 1920. Photo by Albin Dahlström, the Moderna Museet, Stockholm. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation, Stockholm and the Guggenheim Museum.

The cosmos of her paintings and her countless notes encompassed subject areas ranging from astronomy, biology and theosophy to the theory of relativity is absolutely unique. To do justice to this artist’s significance and the many facets of her world of thought, we dedicate our first large spiritual series on coeur et art to Hilma af Klint. Among other things, we will be shedding light on the relevance of Theosophical teaching and discussing the role of symbolism and mysticism in Hilma af Klint’s art.

We go on with the second instalment of our extensive conversation with Halina Dyrschka which we had shortly before the worldwide spreading of the Coronavirus which gives even more weight to Halina´s answers in this Interview and Hilma af Klints work in general.

The importance of this reappraisal and examination of Hilma af Klints life and work through this documentation by Halina Dyrschka cannot be stressed enough, particularly when you consider how systematically women artists going back to the Renaissance have been ignored.

Hilma af Klint is also important for modern society for a completely different reason:

“Not only did she create art that was ahead of its time, she also represented a view of life that remains absolutely forward-looking to this day. Whether in terms of gender equality or her visionary view of religion and spirituality, here is an artist who has something significant to say, regardless of taste preferences or any subjective understanding of art.” Halina Dyrschka

Hilma af Klint, Portrait, 1910
Hilma af Klint, Portrait, 1910

The Universe is change

Dear Halina, what is your personal view of the world of the invisible?

The film is my very personal view of the “universe of Hilma af Klint” – a universe that is entirely ours, however. But it seems we have created a world on this planet that increasingly excludes fate.

It is as if man could actually plan his whole life and then live it according to this plan. This always becomes clear when something unforeseeable happens; it generally throws us off course, and we’re surprised.

Why is that? The universe is change, and the same applies to life on this planet.

Everything is constantly changing; there is no such thing as security. We can make plans and try to find security for ourselves, but whether it works in the end remains open.

In this respect Hilma af Klint’s view of life is very familiar to me. It’s what inspired me so much when I saw her work that describes our BEING.

As there is so much we don’t know and cannot see, we should always keep our minds open – i.e. first of all in working on ourselves, in order to really overcome all the narrow limits that we impose on ourselves in our thinking. I see this as a life-long task.

Furthermore I wanted to use the scientific discoveries being made at Hilma af Klint’s time and still valid today, to make the subject of spirituality more accessible.

After all, scientists – especially once concerned with quantum physics – must have a strong belief in being, in life. Otherwise no one would ever have arrived at the idea of investigating this aspect of life.

I find it very reassuring to know that what we perceive and see is not everything.  It is enormously helpful when you have to fill out forms for the authorities or hear the latest news.

Photography : Åsa Lundén / Museum of Modern Art Stockholm 2013
Photography : Åsa Lundén / Museum of Modern Art Stockholm 2013

An oevre beyond art and art history

An article on the exhibition of Hilma af Klint’s work you went to in 2013 at Hamburger Bahnhof (and that I unfortunately missed), states:

‘The Swedish artist who painted the “Tree of Knowledge” and strove for transcendence …represented moderate abstraction – coming from Art Nouveau, decorative and visionary. Even before Wassily Kandinsky, the daughter of a wealthy family worked in a largely abstract manner. Pure abstraction, however, remained foreign to her. As the work titles suggest, it seems as if she was more interested in mediation. Art history probably doesn’t need to be rewritten.’

Maybe I am a little biased here, but what immediately strikes me is the way Hilma af Klint is put in relation to important male artists to give her value. I also find the statement that pure abstraction remained alien to her simply wrong, and the speculation about her approach almost arrogant. I am naturally aware that we need to place the work of artists in their context but I also see Hilma Af Klint as a perfect example of an artist who can and ought to be seen in her own right.

© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk
© Stiftelsen Hilma af Klints Verk

Exactly. Hilma af Klint’s oeuvre is actually beyond art. And beyond art history, actually. To be honest, mentioning art history was just to draw attention. If it hadn’t been stressed that she was the first, who would have listened?
There were just the usual attempts to discredit an artist. I can’t understand that in any way.

What use is all this constant veneration of Kandinsky and co.?

Especially if you don’t own one… But many of these articles weren’t well-researched either – a lot of them turned out to be outdated, and the critic certainly didn’t know her entire work, which indeed did include abstract paintings.

Or how do you call a yellow square?

Hilma af Klint, Serie Parsifal, Grupp II, nr 69, 1916 Akvarell och blyerts på papper 26,8 × 24,8 cm HAK279
Hilma af Klint, Serie Parsifal, Grupp II, nr 69, 1916 Akvarell och blyerts på papper 26,8 × 24,8 cm HAK279

Now, there are many different facets in Hilma af Klint’s work, which is great. Because if everyone feels to secure in their opinion, especially the people in institutions like museums, the result is ignorance, on an official level.

And nobody complains because everything stays the same.
I don’t see why there is a need to always make comparisons. We all tend to, but basically every artist stands for him- or herself. They do orient themselves to one or the other, but basically they try to find their own stance.

As Herman Hesse once said, it is the particularly the outsiders among artists who shine the brightest.

Group V, The Seven-Pointed Star, No. 1n (Grupp V, Sjustjärnan, nr 1), from The WUS/Seven-Pointed Star
Group V, The Seven-Pointed Star, No. 1n (Grupp V, Sjustjärnan, nr 1), from The WUS/Seven-Pointed Star

The arrogance of the (art) establishment

The Museum of Modern Art in New York simply refused to acknowledge that Hilma af Klint was far ahead of many of her male colleagues, whether Kandinsky, Joseph Albers and Paul Klee or later Cy Wombly and even Andy Warhol, as the film impressively shows. How long can this refusal be sustained? It was argued that Hilma af Klint did not exhibit (which is not true, she exhibited in London) and that her contribution can therefore not be acknowledged.

This argument is actually a joke. I have never understood it. What does it mean? Why should it matter that she never exhibited? Which, as we now know, she did.

But if that argument is true, then I would argue that all Van Goghs should be taken down and packed away immediately!

This was the particularly annoying thing about this overall attempt by the art history establishment to discredit an artist with really pathetic arguments.

This basically also displays arrogance towards the public, which is seen as not being able to understand the sublimities of art history. But these arguments are completely futile.

But that’s great, isn’t it?

There is this oeuvre, and it upsets customary attitudes. And it does so with a very positive energy.

The film trailer begins with the quote “Art history must be rewritten”. Do you think you will succeed in this?

It is already happening. The big museums have all given in, by the way, WITHOUT actually admitting it. A painting by Hilma af Klint has been on show at MoMA since this year, and the exhibition at the Guggenheim was the most successful in its history.

And as for the written word: Ernst Peter Fischer, the science historian in the film, mentions Hilma af Klint between Cézanne and Picasso in his new book. And when, during the filming, I happened to meet the German art historian and author Florian Illies, who was planning a second volume of his bestselling book 1913, I reminded him to not forget Hilma af Klint this time round. And he hasn’t.

But the art world has not suddenly become more open-minded; that’s impossible.

But it has to move a little. Whether this will lead to a real rethink remains to be seen. There is more to it than just rewriting a text.

Heal Humanity with joy, love and art

In a way Hilma af Klint’s precise instructions on how to deal with her estate and in particular that her work “cannot be integrated into the market system” of the art business is a visionary foresight that is almost unbelievable, but only if her statements are dismissed as esotericism. Hand on heart how do you see it?

I really hope that her work will never be sold or put on the market. It simply does not belong there. But I also hope that the Swedish people in particular will now wake up and take care of her oeuvre. It belongs to the Alma af Klint Foundation, but nevertheless one should be very careful about which hands it ends up in.

People who think they can enhance their ego with money are out of place here.

I think the Swedish Ministry of Culture should be made responsible together with the Foundation for providing a place for the work. Hilma af Klint is the only Swedish artist of true world class.

Hilma af Klint, Serie WU/Rosen, Grupp II, nr 5. Erosserien, 1907 Olja puk 61 x 82 cm
Hilma af Klint, Serie WU/Rosen, Grupp II, nr 5. Erosserien, 1907 Olja puk 61 x 82 cm

The works need their temple, something that is NOT a museum.

Her oeuvre needs a unique place.

And the fact that she foresaw this, so to speak, is actually not particularly visionary but has to do with her relationship to and awareness of her work, or rather with the way it was created. It simply did not come about in the sense of building a career.

Hilma af Klint obviously did not think of such petty things.

She always knew that the work is important for humanity.

I feel the same. And people who are willing to occupy themselves with it experience great happiness and deep joy.

The rest may need a little more time, but that doesn’t matter.

Coming home with Hilma

To me, the film and the attention that Hilma af Klint’s work is now getting seems to be coming come at exactly the right time, at a time of blind turbo capitalism with many people completely cut off from nature, their subconscious and the metaphysical level.

Asked very concretely, what can or even must we learn from Hilma af Klint?

Everyone will experience this for themself when they turn to her oeuvre. This is also the obvious secret of her great success: people love her art.

With all their heart. What can be better than a work of art that actually succeeds in bringing love to life. There are people who claim that the paintings have healing power.

Hilma af Klint, Swedish (1862-1944), Untitled, 1931. Watercolor on paper, 22.7 x 29 cm
Hilma af Klint, Swedish (1862-1944), Untitled, 1931. Watercolor on paper, 22.7 x 29 cm


You simply want to be where the works are and you immediately feel they are really about something bigger than “just” art.

Here our BEING, our existence, finds expression.

In these works you can come home. You arrive there and you want to stay.

We want to thank Halina Dyrschka for her time and insights and the Hilma af Klint Foundation for the kind support regarding the Images

Part 3 of our series about Hilma af Klint will be announced soon.

Author: Esther Harrison