^ Hilma Af Klint’s The Ten Largest No. 2, Childhood, 1907

“The Artist Date is a ...festive, solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The Artist Date need not be overtly “artistic” — think mischief more than mastery. Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play. Since art is about the play of ideas, they feed our creative work by replenishing our inner well of images and inspiration. When choosing an Artist Date, it is good to ask yourself, “what sounds fun?” — and then allow yourself to try it.” Julia Cameron

Julia Cameron wrote The Artist’s Way, a beloved book about jumpstarting your creative process and the commitment to yourself and your creative journey. One of her main suggestions is to institute the ARTIST DATE as a weekly personal appointment with your creativity.
Recently, I kept an appointment with mine…

Last week, I flew to New York to visit my best friend and meet her new baby boy. They are currently living north of the city, but I decided to take my shuttle directly to the Guggenheim the morning my red eye got in and catch: Hilma af Klint: Paintings for the Future. For weeks on Instagram I have been seeing colorful snapshots from others’ visits to this show and I knew — I couldn’t miss it!

These “artist date” excursions are always inspiring. If you make the trip with friends, you can still find moments to hang back and be with the art, on your own. Take your time and read the copy on the wall. These generally provide insightful contextualization of the work within history. This show was one of the most visually stunning collections I had seen in a very long time. I had never ever heard of her and I went to art school!

Hilma af Kilnt’s work is a glorious mash-up of “simplified forms of Swedish folk art, the schematic representations of invisible forces found in scientific diagrams, and symbols from a variety of spiritual movements.” I think that it’s important to note that she was working in the abstract style pre-Kandinsky (1866-1944) and Mondrian (1872-1944).

The first series we see at the beginning of the exhibition was “The Ten Largest” that followed the human life cycle from birth to old age, and something about the shapes and colors do illustrate the transition of life. The sweetness and naiveté of the first years, the growing boldness and individualism in young adult years and the awesome wisdom that is won with age. Quite an ambitious series created beautifully.

I was swept up in the whimsical nature of the work. It had been a while since I’d seen paintings that felt so personal. She made “automatic drawings” that flowed from her experiences as a spiritual medium. This produced ethereal and enigmatic pieces, many very large in size. I read that she wanted them to “have an overwhelming impact.”

“In 1896 Af Klint began to hold regular séances with four other women, who collectively called themselves The Five (De Fem)…they understood their endeavor as a way of obtaining direct access to a higher order of knowledge. As part of their efforts, the women began to produce automatic drawings, a then-common method of channeling… cede conscious control of their bodies to what they perceived as a guiding spirit as images or texts were created.”

I read that the exercises in automatism were probably the main liberating practice that helped her create such remarkable work - out from the “confines of her academic art training” she was able to envision new metaphysical imagery. I think this reminded me that sometimes we, as artists, need to try something new to break up the etched grooves of our comfort zones. That a new perspective can create new neural pathways and help you forge new connections and thus fresh work.

“In 1904, the spiritual guides introduced the idea of a temple that would one day be built to house a series of a spiritually derived paintings. …The next year, Hilma was told that she would be called on the complete the task. In January 1906 af Klint agreed to carry out what she referred to as the “great commission.” These divine paintings represent the “birth of the world” and incorporate forms derived from scientific visualizations related to the cosmic, the microscopic and the atomic.”

Af Klint designed “a nearly circular, four-story building that would be connected by a central spiral staircase. She imagined that this structure would be imbued with a “certain power and calm.” Sounds like the Guggenheim to me!

^ Altarpiece No. 1, GROUP X, 1915 (on the right)

^ The Dove, Nos. 12 and 13 (1915) 

^ The Swan, No. 1

Notes and Methods
By Hilma af Klint
Hilma af Klint: A Pioneer of Abstraction
By David Lomas, Pascal Rousseau, Helmut Zander