Hilma af Klint’s Paranormal Paintings at London’s Serpentine

Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen Installation view Serpentine Gallery, London (3 March – 15 May 2016) Image © Jerry Hardman-Jones

Hilma af Klint might be the most interesting and important artist you have never heard of; but who will you be hearing lots more about thanks to an exhibition at London’s Serpentine.

Hilma af Klint (1862–1944) was a Swedish painter, mystic, and pioneer of abstract art who is thought by some to have been the very first abstract artist, beating Wassily Kandinsky to the post. She painted in near isolation from the European avant-garde, forging her own singular path motivated by her interest in nature, the spiritual realm, and the occult.

Through her highly expressive, wonderfully mysterious abstractions, Klint aimed to understand and communicate the many dimensions of human existence, beyond what the eye can see. In 1896 she formed the “The Five” with four other women and together they conducted séances to contact what they were believed were spirits who wished to communicate via pictures.

“The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict,” Klint once said.

She was so worried that her spiritual work would not be understood that she stated in her will that her abstract paintings should be kept out of the public eye for 20 years after her death. The Serpentine’s “Hilma af Klint: Painting the Unseen” focuses primarily on her body of work, “The Paintings for the Temple,” which dates from 1906–15. It was in 1905 that Klint claimed to have been commissioned to create the monumental work of 193 predominately abstract paintings in various series and subgroups by a spirit entity.

“You are to proclaim a new philosophy of life and you yourself are to be a part of the new kingdom. Your labors will bear fruit,” she said she was told. According to the Serpentine, this work charts the influence of science and religion on Klint’s works, from the discovery of electromagnetic waves to the spiritual teachings of anthroposophist Rudolf Steiner.

Julia Peyton-Jones, Director, and Hans Ulrich Obrist, Co-Director, Serpentine Galleries, said: “Hilma af Klint is a pioneer of abstract art and the earliest artist we have ever exhibited at the Serpentine.

Since her work was last exhibited in the UK, a large body of her paintings has been restored, thanks to the efforts of the Moderna Museet and the Hilma af Klint Foundation. This has allowed never-seen-before works and series to be displayed, a number of which will be brought to the Serpentine for the exhibition.”

Hilma af KlintPainting the Unseen” is at the Serpentine Galleries until May 15