962: Afternoon in Andalusia

962: Afternoon in Andalusia

962: Afternoon in Andalusia


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

This summer, I visited the Tate Modern in London. I traveled there to view the canvases of Hilma af Klint; I marveled, barely glancing at the iconic paintings of Piet Mondrian with whom she was paired. Five years before that, I saw her monumental exhibit at the Guggenheim. I believe now, even more than then, that her exuberant paintings occupy their own space in the annals of art.

It would be wrong to say her canvasses put me in the mind of this or that artist; and regrettably, so much of the narrative around af Klint’s work is that she got to abstract painting before the boys: Wassily Kandinsky, Kazimir Malevich and Piet Mondrian. For a while, that paragraph in her press release was passed off as the reason to make the pilgrimage to view her works. While her presence absolutely forces us to rewrite history books and to grant her flowers, Hilma’s more than 1200 sketches, watercolors, and paintings are their own acts of divine suasion, a testament to an imagination that sought forms that give shape to the infinite and spiritual dimensions.

af Klint actively explored mystical phenomena. I relish in her organic objects in her work informed by readings and enthusiasm for science, botany, and religion, particularly theosophy. She belonged to a group of women who met weekly in each other’s homes to write and draw but also to conduct seances. One of the voices she heard told her to make paintings that proclaimed “a new philosophy of life.”

Walking the galleries in the Tate and viewing the colorful array of spirals, helixes, swans, and flowers in bluish and pink palettes, I felt the substance of that life, and believed her work to be the most joyful and transcendent. I stood in silence and followed the movements of her brush, an improvisational viewing. I heard her associations. Ideas blossomed. A vision coalesced.

Today’s poem also provides us with a sense of how the mind and heart make from symbols and patterns a space beyond our reach, where we fleetingly glimpse, if not encounter, the divine.

Afternoon in Andalusia
by Sahar Romani

But why wouldn’t geometry equal divinity

1000 + 1 + 1 + 1       What is faith

but trust in one & infinity          Once

In Granada I studied a wall of polygons

or was it stars or bees       or for a second        a flash

of gladiolas in a field until I could see

a galaxy       planets spinning        spokes on a wheel

clocks or buttons          vines blooming         a tornado

from a future century                 garden of ellipses

my lover’s cornea        alight each morning

God         so far away       & right in front of me

"Afternoon in Andalusia" by Sahar Romani. Used by permission of the poet.