Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz: Conscious collaboration with Spirit
Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) and Emma Kunz (1892-1963) both arrived at their pioneering artworks through conscious collaboration with spirit – in which the collaborator invites beings not in physical form to inform the making of their work. While more attention has been paid to both of their careers in recent years, it has primarily focused on their approach to abstraction and the fact that af Klint’s first abstract paintings predate Kandinsky’s (the ostensible “founder” of abstraction), rather than the specific nature of their processes. This order of focus diminishes the seriousness and purpose of their work and the truly innovative nature of their method – which was an abstraction born of necessity, by way of collaboration with spirit. To separate the freshness of their visual forms from the processes they used to reveal them misses the point entirely. It is exactly because they were consciously collaborating with spirit that they were able to create something so radically new. This kind of innovation does not emerge out of the perceptions of our intellect or ego, but from the infinite knowledge available to the soul.
In creating their work, these women further developed a way of making that is very different from any other conventionally-known means and has only been used by a handful of artists. Hilma af Klint channeled a group of five spiritual beings with four other women and received directions from these beings about what she was to draw and paint. She wrote in her journals: “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; nevertheless, I worked swiftly and surely, without changing a single brushstroke.” Emma Kunz used her higher sensory perception and a pendulum (hers was jade and lead on a chain) to inform the intricate geometric patterns that demanded to be created through her. She used her pendulum to determine the primary geometry of her drawings, letting it swing over the surface of blank graph paper. She said of her drawings, “[E]verything happens according to a certain regularity which I sense inside me and which never lets me rest.”
Other early abstract painters such as Vasily Kandinsky, Piet Mondrian and František Kupka certainly sought to express a spiritual dimension that couldn’t be expressed in representational images – as the writings and research of Arthur Jerome Eddy, Sheldon Cheney and Maurice Tuchman establish. However, I find no visual evidence that they consciously collaborated with spirit in their work. These artists cover good territory but none of it was arrived at through direct communication with other beings. Rather, they were expressing spiritual ideas as mediated by their intellects, resulting, especially in the case of Kandinsky, in a felt distance.
Whether or not an artist identifies spirituality as a source of inspiration in their work, I believe most occasionally engage their own soul, or what one might feel more comfortable calling their inner knowing or deeper wisdom, in their work (Broadway Boogie Woogie feels strongly like such a moment in Mondrian’s work). This is why I call out Kunz and af Klint as foremothers in the path of conscious collaboration with spirit, because I believe many artists work with spirit unconsciously.
The work of af Klint and Kunz was perhaps made possible by preceding artists and poets who also worked in collaboration with spirit – such as Georgiana Houton, William Blake, the Sufi poet Hafiz, and Jalal al-Din Rumi – as well as countless artisans in the traditional mediums of pottery, weaving, paint and dying who made patterns for wearing and daily use that were made sometimes out of visions, dreams or direct connection to the spiritual realm. These patterns always have a purpose – to protect, to heal, to balance; they contain knowledge and convey information. These messages are not necessarily directed at our conscious mind, which is slow to understand this language of sacred geometry and pattern, but to our higher consciousness and energy fields. Hilma af Klint knew her work was meant to assist human evolution but did not know how it did so or what the parts of the images meant; the paintings worked at a level her conscious mind did not understand. Af Klint recorded that Gregor, one of the spiritual beings that advised her, spoke of what she was to convey in this way: “All the knowledge that is not of the senses, not of the intellect, not of the heart but is the property that exclusively belongs to the deepest aspect of your being […] the knowledge of your spirit.” Emma Kunz’s large drawings on graph paper recorded what she learned through direct research and observation. After a drawing was completed, she would sometimes speak at length about its meaning, however very few of these reflections were documented. She used her drawings alongside her other healing modalities. She often selected a drawing for the client and placed it on the floor between them, then would navigate for meaning specific to the client with her pendulum. In reading descriptions of Kunz’ healings, it is clear that she was able to obtain information about a person’s disease or affliction in many ways. She could see using her third eye and had kinesthetic intuition. Kunz sometimes healed clients empathically, by experiencing their illnesses within her own body and treating them within her own system, thereby healing the patient.
I have a personal interest in researching and experiencing these two women’s work, which I learned about several years after I started consciously collaborating with spirit in my own work. My processes have been informed by my study of energy psychology, Reiki, and collaboration with nature, especially the work of Machaelle Small Wright. The creation of my paintings is central to my healing practice. The paintings embody the energetic signature of a plant or being of nature and can balance energies that humans have disrupted. Or they can be a pattern particular to a soul that its human self needs to see for their growth, evolution, or healing. I have found a handful of other artists whose work feels akin; Elizabeth Traina, Day Schildkret, and Eryn Boone. Both Traina and Boone are painters and healers, and Schildkret makes earth altars to process and evolve difficult personal and collective emotion. All three create geometric abstractions that hold coded spiritual information for our healing and growth by consciously collaborating with spirit. They do so by making themselves receptive in meditative states to intuition, rather than employing an additional tool like energy testing (my process), pendulum (Kunz), or channeling/séance (af Klint). My discovery of Hilma af Klint and Emma Kunz’s work was revelatory, I felt affirmed in my own pursuits, knowing I wasn’t alone. I feel deep gratitude for these two women who had their own methods of communicating with beings on the spiritual plane and who forged this path more than a century prior.
This fall, the Guggenheim mounted the first major solo show of af Klint’s work – presenting more than 160 paintings, it is on view till April 23, 2019. It was a delight to see several works that had not previously been shown or published, including many journals and watercolors. One of my favorites, Group IX/SUW, The Swan, No. 13, embodies an energy I have long sought how to express within a prismatic earth-brown light, similar in it’s subtle radiance to a moonbow. The fresh directness of af Klint’s paintings is remarkable and very palpable in person. They came quickly through her and are very different in their speed and marks than her academic paintings from observation. As both af Klint and Kunz gain more acclaim and visibility it is exciting to see their predictions finally coming true, the world in the 21st century is finally ready for their work, and, I hope, to also embrace their way of working in collaboration with spirit.
Images courtesy of Emma Kunz Zentrum and Leah Nguyen.