Georgia O’Keeffe

Georgia O’Keeffe gained worldwide fame for her austere minimalist paintings of the US Southwest. Born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, on 15 November 1887, O’Keefe grew up in Virginia and first studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago. Initially, she embraced a highly abstracted, urban style of art. She later moved to New York where she thrived within the growing community of abstract expressionists. Beginning in 1912, though, she began spending time in Texas and she became the head of the art department at the West Texas State Normal College in 1916. O’Keeffe’s time in Texas sparked her enduring fascination with the stark and powerful western landscape. She began to paint more representational images that drew on the natural forms of the canyons and plains that surrounded her. O’Keeffe’s paintings of cow skulls and calla lilies gained particular attention and won her an enthusiastic audience.

Music: Pink and Blue II – 1919

Her marriage to the New York art dealer and photographer Alfred Stieglitz brought O’Keeffe back to the northeast. For a decade, she divided her time between New York City and the couple’s home in Lake George, New York. In 1919, O’Keeffe made a brief visit to the small New Mexican village of Taos, and she returned for a longer stay in 1929. Attracted to the clear desert light and snow-capped mountains, she began returning to New Mexico every summer to paint. O’Keeffe found a vibrant and supportive community among the artists that had been flocking to Taos and Santa Fe since the 1890s.

After Stieglitz died in 1949, O’Keeffe permanently relocated to Abiquiu, New Mexico. There she continued to produce her hauntingly simple images of the southwestern land she loved. By the time she died in 1986, O’Keeffe was considered one of the preeminent artists of the American West and had inspired legions of imitators.

Georgia O’Keeffe was an abstract painter, famous for the purity and lucidity of her still-life compositions. She was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and studied at the school of the Art Institute of Chicago and at the Art Students League of New York. She taught art in Texas from 1913 to 1918. In 1916 the US photographer and art gallery director Alfred Stieglitz (whom she married in 1924) became interested in her abstract drawings and exhibited them at “291,” his gallery in New York City. Her work was shown annually in Stieglitz’s galleries until his death and was widely exhibited in other important institutions.

O’Keeffe, who moved to New Mexico in 1949, is best known for her large paintings of desert flowers and scenery, in which single blossoms or objects such as a cow’s skull are presented in close-up views. Although O’Keeffe handles her subject matter representationally, the starkly linear quality, the thin, clear coloring, and the boldly patterned compositions produce abstract designs. A number of her works have an abstracted effect, the flower paintings in particular — such as Black Iris (1926)—in which the details of the flower are so enlarged that they become unfamiliar and surprising. In the 1960s, inspired by a series of airplane flights, O’Keeffe introduced motifs of sky and clouds, as seen from the air, into her paintings. One of her largest works is the mural Sky above Clouds (1965), which is 7.3 m wide.

Georgia O’Keeffe Quotations:

• To create one’s own world, in any of the arts, takes courage.

• Making your unknown known is the important thing.

• Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.

• I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me — shapes and ideas so near to me — so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn’t occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught.

• I know I cannot paint a flower. I cannot paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning, but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.

\ • When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. 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.

• I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.

• I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.

• Whether the flower or the color is the focus I do not know. I do know the flower is painted large to convey my experience with the flower — and what is my experience if it is not the color?

• I think I am one of the few who gives our country any voice of its own.

• One can not be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.

• One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.

• Now and then when I get an idea for a picture, I think, how ordinary. Why paint that old rock? Why not go for a walk instead? But then I realise that to someone else it may not seem so ordinary.

• 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.

• I found I could say things with colors that I couldn’t say in any other way — things that I had no words for.

• I don’t much enjoy looking at paintings in general. I know too much about them. I take them apart.

• I don’t see why we ever think of what others think of what we do — no matter who they are. Isn’t it enough just to express yourself?

• Wise men say it isn’t art! But what of it, if it is children and love in paint?

• I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore.

• I have had to go to men as sources in my painting because the past has left us so small an inheritance of woman’s painting that had widened life…. Before I put a brush to canvas I question, “Is this mine? Is it all intrinsically of myself? Is it influenced by some idea or some photograph of an idea which I have acquired from some man?”

• Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they may say something.

• Slits in nothingness are not very easy to paint.

• I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life — and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.

• The days you work are the best days.

• You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.

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