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Guided to the Future by Spirits

Hilma af Klint, Swedish pioneer of abstract art working in secrecy between 1906 and 1922, guided by spirits, as she wrote, is still not very well known today. To change this, Gertrud Sandqvist, professor of contemporary art and member of several international art boards, came to Salzburg to broaden our horizon about what she herself calls a potentially strange topic. But, as she continues "I have always been interested in how artists think and how the knowledge they develop is different from our linear knowledge."

Hilma af Klint, born in rural Karlberg in1862, is a good study case for her. Doing abstract paintings as early as 1906, even before Kandinsky. From her diaries, it becomes apparent that she was a medium, deeply enthralled with mysticism and spiritualism, which was nothing unusual at that time. After attending art school from 1880 to 1885 and making a small name of herself as a landscape painter, she formed a group of 5 women known as de fem (the five) or the Friday group that would hold séances every Friday. In those séances, spirits would possess her, infusing her with the desire to paint. Her first abstract cycle came into being between 1907 and 1908, "spirits working through me, guiding my hands." as she wrote in her occult diaries.

This may also come from the spirit of the time, though, as it was easier to say for women that a force was working through them than trying to claim anything more than basic brainwork as their own. When trying to show these works to her friends, she was told it was inappropriate. Dispirited, she invited Rudolf Steiner to her studio, a Christian woman looking for support in something that must have bewildered her to no small degree. She didn’t gain it, in the contrary. Rudolf Steiner greatly disliked her work, telling her it was simply wrong to talk to spirits and paint this way, especially her works depicting man and woman as equal and showing the female spirit in the male body and vice-versa. Devastated, she completely stopped painting for 4 years. After those 4 years, the spirits told her she was now mature enough, so she started doing a cycle titled "The swans", encompassing 111 works in the dimensions of 150x150cm.

These swans represented the male and female forces in their astral form, switching to abstract forms all of a sudden in 1914. She was still talking to the spirits, yet now, she herself was doing the paintings, freely experimenting with different "forms and expressions, not showing her works to anybody. The series finished with a key painting, completely different from her other work, titled Human Chastity", seen today as a self-portrait of the artist. After this series was completed, she would still paint, but only small aquarelles as she would not trust herself, an aging unmarried in a time this was seen completely inappropriate. After the death of her mother in 1920, already aged 60, she travelled for the first time, meeting Steiner again who once more told her she was wrong. She would still receive ideas for large-scale paintings from the spirits, foremost from one called Amaliel who had first offered her works in a séance in 1907, which she had immediately accepted, but only recorded them in her diaries without executing them anymore. When she died in 1942, she advised her relatives to keep her works stored away for the future. So her oeuvre stayed hidden in basement, refused by the public until the 80ies. Now she holds her place among the pioneers of abstract art, something she always knew herself. Most of her work is still in the basement, thankfully well preserved by the circumstances, and it is only sporadically that selected works are shown to the public. Gertrud Sandqvist ends her talk with the hope that all of us will one day get the chance to see the impressive work of a strong woman that, against all odds, would not stop executing a work that she felt was needed for the future of all humanity.


25/08/10 09:10 SummerAcademy 2010
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