Sunday, November 29, 2009

Georgia O'Keeffe

This is a photograph of Georgia O'Keeffe. The manner in which I discovered my love for this artist was rather unique. It was not through my browsing books, art museums or even the internet that I stumbled upon her work. I became fascinated by the love the photographer Alfred Stieglitz carried for this seemingly average looking woman. The image to the left is a portrait done by Stieglitz in New York, 1918. Stieglitz was married to his wife Emmy when the two found one another. After years of correspondence the Alfred promised his lover a quiet studio where she could paint. He would use O'Keeffe as the model for most of his work. Once his wife Emmy discovered one of these impassioned photo sessions Steiglitz divorced his wife and ran away away with Georgia. The two were inseparable and a neighbor recounts the relationship by saying , "they were like two teenagers in love. Several times a day they would run up the stairs to their bedroom, so eager to make love that they would start taking their clothes off as they ran." Stieglitz risked everything for her. O'Keeffe was his muse and provided the push he needed into his experimentation with modern art in the 1920s.

He photographed O'Keeffe obsessively between 1918 and 1925 and produced over 350 prints that encapsulated her or the idea of her. Stieglitz would depict only segments of her (torso, hands, neck etc) which was consistent with the abstract aethsetic of the time. These two images were portraits made around 1920 of O'Keeffe. Stieglitz would title these "A Portrait" and later gave his pieces titles equally as vauge like "Equivalent". His infatuation with her fascinated millions and inspired the modernist artists of the time. It's effect was the same on me. His passion for this average looking woman made me want to know her. I had t know what made this woman so intoxicating.

Georgia O'Keeffe was born November 15th, 1887 in Wisconsin. O'Keeffe lived until she was 98 years of age. Georgia grew up in a large family and was pushed by her supportive parents to go and persue her art in school. In 1905, O'Keeffe enrolled at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and three years later she attended the Art Students League in New York City. She then traveled to Chicago, Virginia, and Texas learning and practicing art as well as teaching. It was here where she draws great inspiration from the southwest and style which resonates through areas such as New Mexico.

O'Keeffe experimented in painting and charcol very early in her career. This charcoal on paper is entitled "No. 13 Special" 1916. She was known for synthesizing abstraction and representation in her work and for challenging the boundaries of modern American artistic style. During this time some of her drawings were presented to Alfred Stieglitz in his gallery 291. He was astounded. Stieglitz displayed many of Georgia's works at this time the majority being watercolors from Texas. The two fell madly in love and Stieglitz left his wife to be with O'Keeffe. They spent winter and spring in Manhattan and summer and fall at the Stieglitz family house at Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains where O'Keeffe would later produce many paintings of this countryside scenery.

Artists at this time were always in conversation with one another. Many modernists saw the intimate photographs Stieglitz made of O'Keeffe exhibited at the Anderson Galleries in 1921. It created a public sensation. The circle of modernists that the couple ran with, namely Charles Demuth, Arthur Dove, Marsden Hartley, Paul Strand and Edward Steichen, deeply impacted O'Keeffe's own work. She began working primarily in oil, which represented a shift away from her having worked in watercolor in the 1910s. By the mid-1920s, O'Keeffe began making large-scale abstract paintings of nature at very close range. She maintained that we should preceive nature as bugs do.
The image on the right is called "Black and Purple Petunias" 1925 and "Red Canna" is on the left. Many art critics maintain that O'Keeffe's paintings of flower parts are a representation of female genitalia however she constantly denied painting vaginal imagery. Nevertheless, many prominent art historians have linked her work to feminist artists of the 1970s and I assert that these paintings are intentionally sensual and sexually driven.

Near the end of the 1920's, Georgia felt the need to travel to find more artistic inspiration. In May 1929, she set out by train with her friend Beck Strand to Taos, New Mexico and the two traveled the west and went to places such as Santa Fe and Albuquerque. For the mext twenty years, O'Keeffe spent part of nearly every year working in New Mexico. During her second summer there, she began collecting and painting bones, and started painting the area's distinctive architectural and landscape forms. Works such as "Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills" 1935 were inspired during this time. She became reclusive and bought a ranch north of Abiquiu and worked for many years alone completing paintings thematically set in New Mexico. Her popularity grew as she continued working as she exhibited at MoMA and The Art Institute of Chicago. While O'Keeffe was spending the summer of 1946 in New Mexico, Stieglitz grew ill and she quickly flew to New York to be with him. He died on July 13, 1946 and O'Keeffe scattered his ashes at Lake George "where he could hear the water". She then moved to New Mexico permanently to continue her work. She continued until 1971 when O'Keeffe, 84, became aware that her eyesight was failing. She then stopped painting yet did not stop to be an inspiration to the art world. Georgia dabbled in pottery, welcomed interviews, filming and even wrote a book about her art. Georgia O'Keeffe died on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98 in Santa Fe.


Whelan, Richard. Alfred Stieglitz: A Biography. 1995, NY: Little, Brown.

Eisler, Benita. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz: An American Romance. 1991, NY: Doubleday.

Dijkstra, B. , Georgia O'Keefe and the Eros of Place (1998).'Keeffe

Robinson, Roxana. O'Keeffe, Georgia. 2000, American National Biography Online. (Oxford Art Online) (ARTstor)

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