Today we celebrate the wonderful work of Georgia O’Keeffe, that was born exactly 134 years ago!
Every time I see a Georgia O’Keeffe painting, I get amazed. I particularly admire her abstract takes on nature. The flowers, the skulls and mountains. It’s a precise abstraction. There’s nothing out of its place. The shapes and lines are carefully marked and the colours are intense and full of life.
I love how she directs our gaze towards what she wants us to pay attention to, look closer. It’s an invitation to see through her eyes what she attentively intensified on canvas.
And, is it just me who wants to pack my things and take the next flight to New Mexico after seeing O’Keeffe’s work?
Let’s find out a bit more about her fascinating life and work.
Studies and influences
The great icon of North American Modernism, Georgia O’Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, in Wisconsin, USA. She studied in Chicago, New York and at the University of Virginia before getting in contact with the teaching methods of Arthur Wesley Dow, a champion of Modern Art in the US. With him, O’Keeffe learned not to copy the styles from other painters, but to find her own.
After a couple of years teaching art in schools, she decided to go to New York and try to make it as a painter in 1918 after the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz supported her to do so.
Stieglitz was a key figure in both O’Keeffe’s career (promoting and sponsoring her work at his gallery) and her personal life (they got married and lived together until he died in 1946).
It was through his gallery and circle of friends, that she learned about the European avant-garde. The works of Kandinsky and the first abstraction artists were particularly important for the development of her visual language.
O’Keeffe appreciated nature and the outdoors and spent countless hours painting what surrounded her. Flowers, mountains, roads, the sky and the sea are all represented in her works, but in a particular way. She concentrated on details and magnified them on canvas, transforming the images into poetic abstraction.
In addition to being one of the biggest names of the art of the 20th century in the US, here are a couple of interesting things about Georgia O’Keeffe you might not know:
- She had a sharp sense of style:
O’Keeffe had a keen sense of aesthetics of everything that surrounded her. Clothing, house interiors and personal image were considered and crafted in a way that created an almost mythic persona.
Photographs of her wearing the beautiful and austere black and white kimonos, hair in a bun, occasionally a hat, with the deserted landscape of New Mexico behind, are exactly the kind of subtle but powerful images she wanted to project to the world.
The same simplicity and authenticity she worked on her paintings applied also to her figure.
In this video, the art historian Wanda Corn that curated the exhibition “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” talks more about her style:
- She made her own clothes:
Having learnt how to sew at a young age, Georgia O’Keeffe made most of her clothes during her adult life. She was an expert seamstress and would choose fabrics – usually natural – colours – usually black and white – and trims, make the pattern and later sew herself.
She also cared for the wardrobe, mending and keeping the garments in excellent condition, therefore she had dresses she wore more than thirty years!
- She rejected the “feminist” label:
Although being a pioneer “woman artist”, Georgia O’Keeffe firmly rejected the term. She wanted to be recognized for the quality of her work and not because of her gender.
Today considered an icon of feminism because of the daring way she lived her life and built her career, she never interacted much with feminist movements from her times.
An icon of Modernism
Today her contribution to Modernism in the US is widely recognized and Georgia O’Keeffe is part of the collection of all the big museums around the country.
Her studio and house in New Mexico were turned into a museum that preserves and carry her legacy.
She is, though, a little less known outside the US apart from art lovers. There are only a handful of her paintings in collections abroad and big exhibitions of her work are quite rare.
The good news it’s that, if you don’t live in the US, there are plenty of videos and online material that you can check (see below!!) to learn more and experience O’Keeffe’s exquisite work!
To know more:
- On the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum website, you find info about exhibitions, biography, browse the collection and join their online education programs. Their YouTube channel is also full of interesting videos exploring all aspects of the artist life.
- If you’re in Paris don’t miss the Centre Pompidou retrospective on O’Keeffe’s work, until December 06. If you can’t visit the exhibition (like me), the website also has a lot of good stuff so we can have a taste of what’s on view.
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Have a nice week!