’keefe Essay, Research Paper
Georgia O’Keeffe Born in 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, studied at the Art Institute of Chicago during 1905 and the Art Students League in New York City from 1907-1908. She worked briefly as a commercial artist in Chicago, and in 1912 she became interested in the principles of Oriental design. After working as a public school art supervisor in Amarillo, Texas from 1912-1914 she attended art classes conducted by Arthur Wesley Dow at Columbia University. She instituted Dow’s system of art education, based on recurring themes in Oriental art in her teacher-training courses at West Texas State Normal College, where she served as department head from 1916-1918. In 1916 Alfred Stieglitz, the well-known New York photographer and a major proponent of modernism, exhibited some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s abstract drawings. In 1924 O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were married.
Georgia O’Keeffe began her training early with private art lessons at home. She continued to pursue art through high school, studied at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and in 1907, enrolled in the Art Students League in New York City. Moving to Texas in 1912, O’Keeffe accepted a position as supervisor of art in the public schools of Amarillo. During her summers, she studied and taught art at the University of Virginia, working with Alon Bement, who introduced her to the theories of Arthur Wesley Dow. Returning to New York in 1914, she enrolled at Columbia Teachers College to study under Dow, whom she later credited as the strongest influence on the development of her art. While teaching at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina, she discarded academic training and began a new series of highly personal abstractions in charcoal.
In 1916, O’Keeffe’s friend Anita Politzer showed some of these abstract drawings to famed photographer Alfred Stieglitz, who exhibited them at his avant-garde gallery. In 1918, at Stieglitz’s invitation, O’Keeffe returned to New York from Texas and accepted his offer of financial support allowing her to paint full time. They were married six years later.
Painting seasonally at Lake George and in Manhattan, O’Keeffe reflected the influences of place in her work.“ Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”(Hogrefe, pg 78) Her annual exhibits at Stieglitz’s galleries and subsequent museum shows established her as a major figure in American Modernism and propelled her to international fame.
In her yearly visits to New Mexico, being a loner, Georgia wanted to explore this wonderful place on her own. She bought a Model A Ford and asked others to teach her how to drive. After one particularly exasperating moment, one of her teachers declared that she was unable to learn the art of driving. Only her determination was to lead to mastering her machine. She would travel the back roads in the Model A…having removed the backseat, would unbolt the front seat, turning it around so that she could prop her canvas against the back wall of the car.
After her second visit to New Mexico in 1929, O’Keeffe returned for many summers to live and paint the magnificent landscapes she came to cherish. Georgia would return to “her land” each summer. In 1940, she acquired a house at Ghost Ranch where she worked during her visits. After Stieglitz’s death in New York in 1946, O’Keeffe spent three years in the city settling his estate. In 1949 at age 62, she made New Mexico her permanent residence, dividing her time between her summer home at Ghost Ranch and an adobe house she had renovated in the historic village of Abiquiu.
O’Keeffe traveled internationally, painted and continued to enjoy her status as one of the top American artist. Throughout her life, O’Keeffe made contributions to the history of American art. In 1977, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Gerald R. Ford.
Always a unique style, Lake George, Coat and Red (1919), a most important example of O’Keeffe’s early abstract style, was a roughly brushed composition in which a twisted, mysterious form looms against a rainbow-hued sky. Early in her career she developed a personal, extremely refined style, favoring strangely natural abstract subject matter such as flower details and severe architectural themes.
In 1923, O’Keeffe began painting flowers and leaves, creating some of her best-known work. Oriental Poppies and related flower paintings have been seen by some scholars as her response to such modern photographers as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, who “zoomed in” on and closely cropped their subject in an attempt to discover its core spirit. O’Keeffe emulates this technique in her compositions. By creating an oversized close-up of the poppies and removing them from any noticeable context, she abstracts the organic forms into black and red shapes.
In Oak Leaves, Pink and Gray, O’Keeffe examines every crevice and vein of the leaves, exploring the harmony of decay and rebirth in nature, a theme prevalent in her work. Here, O’Keeffe has created a composition that is objective, because the leaves are a recognizable subject, and abstract, because the broad expanse of color compels a person to read the image in terms of pure form and color.” I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty. Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven’t time, and to see takes time — like to have a friend takes time.” (O’Keeffe, pg 93)
Many of her paintings were dramatic, sharp-focus enlargements of botanical details. Though O’Keeffe insisted that there was no symbolism behind her work, art critics continue to speculate about the sexual imagery in such paintings as Black Iris and Jack in the Pulpit No. 6. Without a doubt, this generative tension underlying her botanical paintings accounts for much of their force and mystery, and these images applaud life and beauty. They were among her most optimistic and successful works of art.
Between 1926 and 1929 O’Keeffe painted a group of views of New York City. New York Night transformed skyscrapers into patterned, impressive structures that deny their volume. More architecturally characteristic were such paintings as Lake George Barns and Ranchos Church, Taos. These simple buildings, further simplified in her painting, were America’s anonymous folk architecture; in these forms O’Keeffe found a durability and stillness that contrasted with the frenetic urban setting.
Influenced by the Southwest, in 1929 O’Keeffe began spending time in New Mexico; that region’s dramatic mesas, ancient Spanish architecture, vegetation, and dried out terrain became her constant themes. Even her metaphors of death in the desert—a sun bleached skull lying in the sand or affixed to a post as in Cow’s Skull with Red were eternalized. She regarded these whitened relics as symbols of the desert, nothing more. “[Sun-bleached bones] were most wonderful against the blue — that blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.”(O’Keeffe, pg 103) To her, they were strangely more living than the animals walking around. The dried animal bones and wooden crucifixes of the region that loom in her desert Black Cross, New Mexico were unsettling visions.
In 1945 O’Keeffe bought an old adobe house in New Mexico; she moved there after her husband’s death in 1946. The house served as a frequent subject. In paintings such as Black Patio Door and Patio with Cloud details of doors, windows, and walls were drastically reduced to virtually unmodified planes of color.
Many of O’Keeffe’s paintings of the 1960’s, large-scale patterns of clouds and landscapes seen from the air, reflected a romanticized view of nature, reminiscent of her early themes. It Was Blue and Green that used more vague color, and the painting technique was looser, with less dependence on sharp contours. These large paintings ended in a 24-foot mural on canvas, Sky above Clouds IV.
A portrayal of O’Keeffe, In Cahoots with Coyote, from Terry Tempest Williams’ 1994 book, “An Unspoken Hunger,” painted a vivid narrative of the artist’s entrancement with the New Mexico she first visited in 1917. “I simply paint what I see,” O’Keeffe is quoted as saying, from O’Keeffe’s own essays published by Georgia O’Keeffe in 1987. O’Keeffe’s search for the ideal color, light, stones, parched bones that contained more life in them than living animals, transformed her trips into desert country into a communion with the perfection around her. Once, in a canyon bottom, she was so enthralled by the sight that she laid her head back Coyote-fashion and howled at the sky, terrifying her companions nearby who feared she was injured.” I can’t help it — it’s all so beautiful,” was her response.
Another, well-known story related by Williams was of O’Keeffe stealing a perfectly shaped, totally black stone she admired from the coffee table of friends. They had found it at a canyon riverbed during a search for stones moments before O’Keeffe arrived at the spot, but kept it tantalizingly out of her reach. Obsessed with the stone and seeing it on the table for her to steal if she wanted, she had no doubt thought she was the rightful possessor of such beauty.
O’Keeffe’s paintings are hauntingly familiar, although they are of a design which is viewed as strange or elusive to most of us. Looking at her paintings, one feels as if they are near something that is strangely familiar to them, but yet so out of reach, it makes the mind wonder how this women has come to see these images and render them to canvas. Her insights and visions were monumental in the art world. Her textures and colors were contrasting yet complimentary. They exuded an implied sexuality, which to this day raises questions about the imagery that critics are still debating.
Georgia became increasingly frail in her late 90’s and moved to Santa Fe where she continued painting until a few weeks before her death. She died on March 6, 1986, less than a year short of turning 100. Per her instructions, she was cremated the next day. Juan Hamilton walked to the top of the Pedernal Mountain and scattered her ashes to the wind…over her beloved “faraway”.
Many of her works found a permanent home among the abode buildings of Sante Fe, New Mexico. The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, designed by New York architect Richard Gluckman, opened in 1997 to hold more of her pastels, drawings, paintings and sculpture than any other museum.
Georgia O’Keeffe is arguably the twentieth century’s leading woman artist. Coming of age along with American modernism, her life was filled with intense relationships – with family, friends, and especially noted photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Her struggle between the rigorous demands of love and work resulted in extraordinary accomplishments. Her often erotic flowers, bones, stones, skulls and pelvises became extremely well known to a broad American public.
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