• gerard van weyenbergh

Georgia O'Keefe Extraordinaire

With their flexible and flared curves, their flamboyant colors, the almost abstract flowers of Georgia O'Keeffe ( 1887–1986) are major canvases of modern American art. Wife of photographer Alfred Stieglitz, she developed a solitary work, turned towards the observation of nature and landscapes. In love with New Mexico, she lived there most of her life, her head in the clouds. Georgia O'Keeffe embodies a particular face of abstraction: biomorphic, sensual, subjective, and meditative. In 2014, her Jimson Weed / White Flower No. 1 canvas became the most expensive work sold for a female artist.

She said

"If you take a flower in your hand and actually observe it, it becomes your world. "

Her life

Born into a family of American farmers in Wisconsin, nothing predisposed Georgia O'Keeffe to be interested in art. However, she developed a passion for drawing at a very young age. In Chicago, then in New York, she attended major art schools. She is notably the student of the impressionist painter William Merritt Chase.

In New York, O'Keefe discovered the world of the avant-garde, visiting gallery 291 founded by pictorialist photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Not being sure she would succeed in becoming a painter, she hesitated for several years. A fine watercolor artist, she finally returned to painting in 1912, working alongside one of the pioneers of American abstraction, Arthur Dove. She also draws in charcoal and teaches to live in a town in Texas.

Her charcoals will please Stieglitz who agrees to exhibit them. Georgia O'Keefe moved back to New York in 1918. The two fell in love and married in 1924. He photographed her extensively and introduced her to his circle of artist friends. Later, their union becomes more distant, Stieglitz multiplying the infidelities.

Georgia O'Keeffe finds her inspiration fully in flowers and natural shapes, often seen in close-up. Her style is close to abstraction, more organic and lyrical than geometric. She places her footsteps in those of Kandinsky whom she admires. Georgia O'Keeffe is also interested in architecture and the urban landscape.

The artist claimed to hate flowers, and yet they are her main models. She was fascinated by the beauty of the details observed in nature, the strangeness, and the shapes' precision. Her boldly framed works sometimes evoke Japanese prints, exude something mystical and surreal.

In the summer, Georgia O'Keeffe enjoys traveling to New Mexico and hangs out with writer DH Lawrence. The thirties were a difficult journey because she suffered from depression and had to put her brushes away. The end of the decade and the forties will be more lenient for the artist, who benefits from several major exhibitions. However, she lost her husband in 1946. From then on, she moved to New Mexico, painting the clouds.

It was on a monastic ranch, in the middle of the arid lands of the American West, that she spent the last forty years of her life, weakened by serious vision problems. Ten years after her death, a museum bringing together her work was opened in 1997 in Sante Fe.

Her key works

The Lawrence Tree, 1929

This canvas was painted by Georgia O'Keeffe on the ranch of her friend the writer DH Lawrence. The perspective is astonishing and unusual, the painter seizing the pine tree in total low angle. The colors move away from reality, without completely falling into the imagination. With its branches and black foliage blossoming in a starry sky, the tree becomes a free and mysterious form.

Black iris, 1926

Representative of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe, Iris noir oscillates between figuration and abstraction. We cannot ignore here the analogy between the flower and the female sex, perhaps unconscious, because the artist rejected such interpretations. The heart of the flower, captured in very close-up, appears as a delicate shape with subtle colors. The work is, in any case, an open door to interior meditation.

Black Mesa Landscape New Mexico, 1930

Landscapes hold an essential place in the work of Georgia O'Keeffe. They are deserted by figures, concentrating a harsh light in the rocks' folds and on the sand of the desert. New Mexico exerted a real fascination on the imagination of the artist. We perceive a mystical, almost shamanic dimension. © Beaux Arts Magazine