A Spell for Hilma

Poets respond to Hilma af Klint: The Secret Paintings.

Hilma af Klint, The ten largest, group IV, 1907, tempera on paper mounted on canvas. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation

After Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 1, Childhood (1907), Hilma af Klint

spell for Hilma af Klint

– Stacey Teague

you know which colour to choose / see a flicker of yourself amongst the blue / as if it were winking back at you / a vision foretells a life / a kind of seeing in all directions / you decide you like this one best / this image as it curves through your being / you want to move as it moves / like an orange peel floating on water / you swirl around little swirler / imagining yourself embryonic / feel energies between heaven and earth / listen to the spirit guide / enclosed side by side / flowing between palettes of yellow and blue / find the pigment that is yours only / take a finger and dip it in / write in looping cursive until it uncovers / a name unknown to you but lights up in the centre / there is no joy / but a longing to be inside one structure / while being held inside of another / yours is an astral grief / the flowers grow all around the edges / there is a wreath hanging on the wall / waiting to be unflourished / build yourself a temple to house these structures / to house your head as it vibrates / believing in itself / you start at the beginning /

After Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 3, Youth (1907), Hilma af Klint


– Rebecca Hawkes


All this life and I have not learned what to do with my despair. Blunt

cleaver in my kitchen. Trying to chop a withering corn cob, parchment husk

stripped, greyish silk brittle. The cleaver sticks in the woody core without cutting

clean. I raise the cleaver again, the whole cob lifting with it – smash

the sweetcorn onto the countertop so hard the kernels burst,

spraying a yellow mist of raw corn juice wall to wall in my little apartment.

I cannot paint. Everything is so small. A shoebox life in an egg-cup city. Cleaning up

the shattered corn I tread on a blank canvas. Laid flat on the carpet; nowhere else to put it.


I drop my backpack at the gallery desk. The bulging bag stinks,

burdened with farmers’ market bargains – a bruised kilo of plums

taut to bursting, mottled omega skins slack on velveteen meat, and

a discounted pineapple so ripe it has seeped gold through the seams

of its crocodile rind, and then the bag, soaking the small of my back.

Every heavy thing I have carried through the day, I leave

in the foyer. I bear only those lingering musks of ripeness and rot,

a pen in my hand and a fossilised ammonite on a chain at my throat.


The iridescent nacre is wearing off the shell of my fossil mollusk. Its play of fire

erodes slowly over my heart. How long was it a secret in the bedrock, a tiny spiral temple

that built itself chamber by chamber, then was buried? Hilma’s art unspools from the past.

Consider the trust it takes to think one’s hand may be guided by a higher force,

or that one day the world will welcome your life’s work. I am in awe of anyone

who can grow up and still make things. To make art as a portal to a possible future

when sometimes I am only sickened by hope. But her work is here, alive in a new cruel century.

A dove wipes clean its bloody beak. My heart expands into a larger chamber.


In this painting youth is a delicate, exuberant thing. A searching tendril

on a cucumber vine that traces fine line loop-de-loops hooting woo-hoo-hoo.

Tender curlicues seeking higher sunlight and sensation. Youth, you curious snail,

expanding from the nuclear whorl to taste the world with sensitive tentacles.

Youth a swooping orchid form. Youth a spun wheel in which any roulette quadrant

promises ecstasy. No pens are permitted in the gallery, as a stipulation of the insurance policy.

I am so small, I am insignificant, but in me gushes a kind of force that has to go forward.

Everything existed in youth, where we sowed our dreams. Now, how goes the harvest?


In the hard world I struggle to open my heart. Do I even remember my secret dreams?

Nowadays you might find me seeking meaning in the inherent beauty of a zucchini spiraliser,

noodles of flayed courgette extruding though in perfect helixes. I am pleased

by the economy of it. Another plastic thing I have no room for. But see the spirals

do their noodly revolutions, in my apartment that still smells of sweetcorn sugar. Ammonite

pendant still warmed by my skin. For Hilma the snail could mean either retreat or evolution.

In the self-portrait a shell rests on her shoulders, whorl expanding to swallow her red heart.

Why not live enormously? Start a painting the size of my whole home. The size of my life.

Hilma af Klint, The SUW series, group IX, 1915, oil on canvas. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation

After The Swan, No. 1 (1915), Hilma af Klint

inside you there are two swans

– Ash Davida Jane

the swans are not fighting

they perform a dance

in perfect unison they pretend

the one is the other’s mirror image

two beaks barely brushing the glass

at the point of reflection

inside you there are two swans

they want to be let out they

tuck their heads under a ruffled wing

razor tip of a claw

scratching your sternum where the breath

catches if you could only catch it

inside the swans there are two frames

in miniature pencil strokes still visible

under fresh wet colour

one an image of being able to feel

joy in the future the other

everything that could be called a burden

I’m afraid the swans are becoming unruly

each bird crawling into its bird life

crawling out of tranquillity

oyster pink beneath like mushrooms

fruiting in waves finding new ways to fill space

the burden of a body or the body of burden

as in a body of work will you keep working

without them or will it be too quiet

without them will you be lonely

lonely how will you carry your body

Hilma af Klint, The ten largest, group IV, 1907, tempera on paper mounted on canvas. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation

After Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 6, Adulthood (1907), Hilma af Klint

After, you buy pears and rolled oats, as if your world hadn’t split open then sealed itself up with a new glow and no scar

– Leah Dodd

Nothing to show except two fridge magnets, plastic on powdered rust, the spirals of life made small enough to hold a poem, a postcard, a picture of your dad in his twenties, grinning with still-dark hair. How strange just to see them, stuck brightly while reaching for cheese, pickled onions, like playing god, like you’ve stolen a moon and instead of waxing all it does is laugh, right at you, loud as your own blood in the bone of each night. A power thing, probably. A way to keep the feeling but in a neater way, a convenient spike of wonder alongside toast and tea. Truth is, you’ve been here before. You have left your familiar life once already, when you were both stoat and trap cradling cold white egg, circled by medics but so alone with your pain and your marvel that all you craved was salt and a sweet death, you have made a whole life in the unfamiliar, a life without edges, only a blue that melts into mauve and back again, only a new future with white teeth and a head of gold hair who kisses your cheeks and eats last night’s satay noodles, calling the broccoli good trees, while you sit on the kitchen floor singing folk songs, Disney songs, made-up songs about bread crusts and blackbirds, songs about Persian love cakes made with rose petals and pistachios, your future and your end reaching up to be held close for Harvest Moon, you have made a whole life here, you have made a whole life

Hilma af Klint, The ten largest, group IV, 1907, tempera on paper mounted on canvas. Courtesy of the Hilma af Klint Foundation

After Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 7, Adulthood (1907), Hilma af Klint

– Sinead Overbye

here are memories made visible in ink

when she shuts her eyes, she feels them

scatter outwards, circle back beneath her skin

tendrils dig deep to the core of her

feelings seeping from the offshoots

remember this they say

and this

she has lived a long life Hilma

in the morning, sun drapes the floor

in Ateljébyggnaden she goes weeks

without leaving

when she does, dons a grey wool coat

& leather gloves smiles at no one

looks down as she walks

she loves the taste of the world

at sunset toffee-apple, cherry malt

or else the lavender-blonde of summer

soft caress of wind on cheek

they all open their arms to her

she has spent all these years knowing

but the world must wait.

After Group IV, The Ten Largest, No. 9, Old Age (1907), Hilma af Klint

– Carolyn DeCarlo

It's not a notion I usually like to entertain, but –

the smell of death excites me.

I was walking yesterday

through a park I sometimes take my dog to.

She hates it there,

too many sounds,

too many men.

The smell of trash hit me

through my mask,

a little delight.

I met eyes with a man in steel-capped boots,

and we shared the little thrill.

It was warm,

the smell –

and a bit sick.

Soft, like falling down

nose first into a bed of mushrooms.

When I die,

I want mushrooms to bloom from my body

and be eaten by those I leave behind.

I want to be a feast.

Hilma af Klint

The Secret Paintings

City Gallery Wellington

4 December – 27 March 2022

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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