Georgia O’Keeffe was one of the most influential artists in America. Known as the “mother of American modernism”, she’s most famous for her paintings of flowers and her landscapes of her adopted home of New Mexico. The recent exhibit at the North Carolina Art Museum did a great job of showcasing her art as well as the art of young painters who have been inspired by O’Keeffe. Here we’ll focus on O’Keeffe’s work and will touch on the works of the other artists in a future post.
O’Keeffe was born in Wisconsin in 1887 and, after several years teaching throughout Virginia, South Carolina and Texas, she moved to New York in 1918 after meeting photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Stieglitz promoted and exhibited her art and the two developed a personal relationship that eventually led to their marriage in 1924. Though they remained married until Stieglitz’s death in 1946, the couple separated when Stieglitz began an affair with photographer Dorothy Norman. The infidelity was the impetus behind O’Keeffe’s move to New Mexico.
O’Keeffe career spanned many decades and, despite failing eyesight, she continued working well into her nineties. She passed away in New Mexico at the age of ninety-eight and her ashes were scattered at her beloved Ghost Ranch, her home since 1940.
While O’Keeffe’s long career saw her work cover a great many subjects, there are a few for which she is best known. Her flowers earned her early fame, possibly helped by art historians who felt her flowers were metaphors for female genitalia. I guess if people can see the Virgin Mary in a piece of toast, anything is possible.
While married to Stieglitz, O’Keeffe spent time at his home at Lake George as well as in New York City. Her modernist paintings from this period are quite interesting. Her work was inspired by her surroundings, both at Lake George and in the City. This painting of the Radiator Building is a great example of her work from the period. The dark colors and sharp angles are a big change from her flowers.
After her move to New Mexico, her the land around her became her focus. She loved New Mexico and her art shows it. Landscapes, animal bones and even rocks became the subjects of her paintings. This is probably the time period O’Keeffe is best known for. I’m not sure what I like best from this period. The landscapes are great but the paintings of animal bones are very surreal and appeal to me. Here’s Horse Skull with Pink Rose.
My Backyard, from 1937, is a prime example of her New Mexico landscapes.
A couple other O’Keeffe works that were part of the exhibit caught my attention. First, an untitled sculpture stood out because O’Keeffe wasn’t known for sculpture. The one on exhibit was striking.
Finally, her abstract paintings were quite stunning. I really like abstract art and O’Keeffe’s were great. I loved her Abstraction Blue from 1927, but I was especially drawn to the title piece of the exhibit, The Beyond, from 1972. O’Keeffe was in her eighties at this point, and her eyesight was failing. This painting was one of her last oil paintings and is beautiful.
There were many interesting paintings by Georgia O’Keeffe exhibited as part of The Beyond. There were also many paintings and sculptures by artists inspired by O’Keeffe. I’ll highlight some of them in the next post.