The Other Face of Georgia O’Keeffe
Although most people consider Georgia O’Keeffe the painter of skulls and flowers, the themes represented by her brushes are really varied.
Currently, until October 30th, the Tate Modern in London is showing a retrospective on the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986). However, I am not intending on reviewing the exhibition, which is a general, nice representation of the various phases of the painter, but instead on a peculiar side of O’Keeffe’s work.
Although most people consider Georgia O’Keeffe the painter of skulls and flowers, the themes represented by her brushes are really varied. Of course, some of her flowers, representing feminine nature through almost abstract forms and tenuous pastel colors, are particularly famous, as well as her horses’ skulls. However, Georgia O’Keeffe also worked on skyscapes, mountains and lakes, different kind of objects, and even photos with Alfred Stieglitz.
The theme that really struck me during the exhibition, which may be “the other face” of the artist, is her relationship with city and country landscapes. Georgia O’Keeffe painted both New York skyscrapers and the countryside of Texas and New Mexico, but her approach was different. If you look at the painting New York, at Night (1928-29), you will notice how geometrical, dark, and synthetic it is. The representations of the city are all similar in style, while the other landscapes show her will to experiment with abstraction and color.
Why such changes? Well, I am just speculating, but I guess we should consider her life experience. She lived in New York with her husband, and photographer, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), and most of the city landscapes were made in their studio. Probably, O’Keeffe was influenced by Stieglitz’ subjects and focused on skyscrapers while living in Manhattan. In Texas, where she was born, and New Mexico, she had more freedom regarding the kind of landscapes and objects she could paint. Moreover, she was not as influenced in style by her husband as in New York, where they constantly worked together.
However, I don’t think this is the only reason. Probably, the almost desert landscape in which Georgia grew was much more appealing for experimentation. Taking apart all the emotive links with a specific place, the artist lived in Texas and New Mexico in her youth and maturity. In such a long time, her experience and ability brought the painter through different phases. For example, the youthful Red and Orange Streak (1919) is an impetuous abstraction of a Texan plain, while the more mature Chama River, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico (1937) focuses more on colours and proportions. The representation of the river is gentle, peaceful, and it seems to show a maturity and confidence that her earlier paintings lacked. Not that she wasn’t confident in 1919, while she was painting Red and Orange Streak. She was just younger and more willing to show her energy.
July 7th, 2016 – October 30th, 2016
Tate Modern London
Times: Sunday – Thursday 10-18; Friday – Saturday 10-22