Georgia O’Keefe may be best known for her close-up paintings of flowers, but this artist had a wide range of subject matter, style and technique over the span of her years.
She was among the first generation of women to attend art institutes and colleges, becoming one of America’s celebrated modern artists.
At a time when men dominated the art world, she stood out, for not only her gender, but also her approach to art.
She delved in abstract art during her early phase of painting, which was considered innovative for its time. She then moved on to floral painting with a twist. Her use of magnified images of flowers on a large scale was something that had not been seen. This was groundbreaking territory, and she is probably most remembered for these sensual, powerful works.
A Life Of Art
Ms. O’Keeffe started painting watercolor, later switching to oil paint. She used a direct, organic method in her painting, making each brushstroke complete unto itself, allowing the painting to evolve naturally. Her minimal brushwork also translated into a clean, easy to read appearance to her work. Her minimal, stark paintings focused on color and shape. Her roots during this period of painting are cubist in nature, and the works are considered precisionism.
She moved away from geometric form, both emotionally and physically. She left the city and its buildings and built her paintings around nature. Her portrayal of flowers was unlike anything the public had seen, and she is now remembered as the woman who painted erotic florals.
Her work, however, goes far beyond any trite commentary as to sexual overtones. She once said, “I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.” She portrayed flowers in a manner and method that had not been seen in any public exhibit before. Her massive works took a single blossom, or even portion thereof, and enlarged it to an almost abstract magnification.
Ms. O’Keeffe, forever the master of her destiny, moved to the less-green, remarkably captivating pastures of New Mexico. The stark landscape and hard, defined geometric shapes of the desert sparked Georgia’s muse in another direction. The desert landscape, the bones, rocks and vegetation inspired her to another chapter in her painting career. These images take on an almost surreal look, as she combined the desert landscape with bones, skulls and flowers. They are strong and direct, commanding the viewer to examine them.
She also took her weathered, sun-bleached bones into the world of magnification, creating paintings reminiscent of her floral works. These paintings, called her Pelvis series, examined the contrasts of concave and convex shapes in relationship to solid and open spaces.
She spent many years exploring the New Mexico landscape with her brush and paint. The unique geological formations and vegetation were endless fodder for her paintings, and she continued to portray the vivid colors and clarity of light the area offers for more than four decades.
O’Keeffe also created a large body of work that is an odd juxtaposition to her love of nature and its ever-changing character. Over a period of almost 15 years, she painted a series of more than 30 paintings revolving around the patio and door of her Abiquiu home. This was a return to the kind of abstract, geometric paintings she had begun painting during her life in New York.
Late in her career, she struck out into new territory. She created two major series as seen from a bird’s-eye point of view. In one series, she examined aerial views of rivers. The second, her focus was the sky as seen from above the clouds. In these series, she chose ever-larger canvases, sometimes reaching mural proportions. The culmination of this was a tremendous canvas, “Sky Above Clouds IV,” which measures 8 by 24 feet. Keep in mind, this was created by a woman nearly 80 years of age. She did have assistance, as it is a monumental feat, but it shows a tenacity and commitment that kept her producing new and innovative art for most of her life.
Her life of art was as big and bold as the canvases she created. Her legacy is one of independence and forthright action. As a craftsman and as an artist, learn to paint your true soul.