First, however, she underwent rituals of purification, not unlike ancient Biblical edicts to bathe before offering an animal sacrifice at the temple. For about 10 months, af Klint prepared for her artistic task by adopting a vegetarian diet and working on her self-discipline. Disciplined she became.
She began “The Paintings for the Temple” in 1906, and, even with several periods of rest (as mandated by the spirit guides), by 1908, she had completed the first 111 pieces in a monumental cycle that would come to encompass 193 works on canvas and paper by 1915. She also kept obsessively detailed notebooks about her spiritual and painterly developments, including one that serves as a dictionary for her symbolic visual language.
The early works in this series, entitled “Primordial Chaos” (1906–07), comprise 26 small canvases that introduce concerns which would remain central to all of her later paintings. These works, in an ordered progression, illustrate the birth of the world. Here af Klint explores the dichotomies—male and female, heaven and earth, positive and negative—that structure our existence. She also unveils the symbolic lexicon she would continue to develop throughout her career. The ever-shifting primordial soup that evolves in these works is primarily rendered in blue, yellow, and green. Inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Theory of Colours (1810), af Klint interpreted blue as female and yellow as male; their unity is signified by green. Spiral forms appear often, as they do in the automatic drawings undertaken by De Fem—a potent symbol af Klint would use again and again to suggest growth, progress, and evolution.