Monday, October 7, 2013

Georgia O'Keeffe

Born in 1887 to dairy farmers, Georgia O'Keeffe knew by the age of ten that she wanted to be an artist. Sometimes referred to as the "Mother of American Modernism", O'Keeffe is best known for her larger-than-life paintings depicting flowers magnified to a surprising degree. Over the course of over two decades between her birth and her entrance into the New York art community in 1916, she had studied under the tutelage of a number of artists in art institutes across the country, from Chicago, to New York, to Virginia. Her works are often separated into her "Lake George" era, when she lived in and painted Lake George from 1916 to about 1929, to her "New Mexico" golden years, when she introduced the large-format paintings of enlarged blossoms to her portfolio.

I, like O'Keeffe, have always had a fascination with nature and its reproduction. What compels me most about O'Keeffe's work is the vibrancy of color she uses throughout her pieces.

You can see that in the piece above and the one below that she had a theme of sticking to one color palette, yet the starkness in contrast is so very evident in the richness of her colors. These two pieces evoke very different emotions from me. The one above exudes life, energy, and passion, almost as if the painter/viewer is watching the bud open before her very eyes. The one below is more subdued. It has a quiet energy, yet evokes a very strong emotion as well, though it is slightly more difficult to pinpoint. It has the interestingly contradictory quality of being simultaneously ominous yet, in a way, calming.

O'Keeffe also exhibited another motif: calla lilies. 

Here, you see her use darker colors such as the pinks, reds, and greens to highlight the white of the lily and make that the centerfold of her piece. Yet you still see her mastery of color-contrasting in the rose backdrop of the third piece, where despite the roses being all one color, the highlighting of certain petals with a brighter shade of pink or the darkening of edges where petals meet allow for the distinction of each individual petal to form a coherent rose. Her use of color contrasting reminds me somewhat of the effects that we tried to obtain last week through subtractive drawing, but with her case, it's additive. 

After looking deeper into her works, I found a series of works depicting the NYC skyline which exhibit her abstractness and ability to draw out emotions from her work without having to be precise and perfect in execution:

Even here, in the absence of her nature motif, O'Keeffe uses her mastery of color to convey context and information about her piece despite the abstraction of her lines and impreciseness of her depictions.


Lynes, Barbara B. Georgia O'Keeffe. Italy: Skira Editore S.p.A., 2011

Coe, Erin B.; Owens, Gwendolyn; Robertson, Bruce. Modern Nature: Georgia O'Keeffe and Lake George. New York: The Hyde Collection, 2013

"Life and Artwork of Georgia O'Keeffe". C-SPAN. January 9, 2013. Retrieved October 7, 2013

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