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georgia o'keeffe: an american perspective book review

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georgia o'keeffe

Biography

"Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense."
Georgia O'Keeffe

Georgia O'Keeffe was the most distinguished American female artist of the twentieth century. She was born in November 1887 near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, the second of seven children. Her father was a farmer. According to her own account, she decided to become an artist at the age of ten. For the next two years she had weekly drawing lessons, and these continued when she was sent to a convent boarding school run by Dominican nuns.

In 1902 her family moved to Virginia, but at first she continued to look to the Middle East for her artistic education. She attended the Art Institute of Chicago in 1905-6, but her training was interrupted when she contracted typhoid fever.

In 1907-8 she attended the Art Students League in New York, where one of her tutors was William Merritt Chase. She saw Rodin's first US exhibition and an Henri Matisse exhibition at 291, Alfred Stieglitz's gallery in New York in 1908. She won the Chase Still Life Prize which enabled her to spend part of the summer of 1908 at the League Outdoor School at Lake George in New York State, a place with which she was later to have a long association.

georgia o'keeffe

In 1908 she decided to abandon her ambitions to be a painter, and returned to Chicago where she worked as a commercial artist, drawing lace and embroidery for advertisements; she was forced to give up this work when her eyesight was affected by an attack of measles.

Meanwhile the illness of her mother had led the family to move to Charlottesville, Virginia. In the summer of 1912 O'Keeffe visited an art class at the University of Virginia, which led to a renewal of her interest in art. In the autumn she took a ob as Supervisor of Art in Public Schools at Amarillo, Texas - she had always felt a romantic attraction to the American West, and later declared:

    'there was no place I would rather go'.

She kept this job for two years, also teaching during the summers at the University of Virginia Art Department. In 1914 she went to New York to study at Teachers' College, Columbia University.

In the autumn of 1915 she accepted another teaching job, this time at Columbia College, South Carolina. It was at this moment that she reached a turning point:

    'It was in the fall of 1915 that I first had the idea that what I had been taught was of little value to me except for the use of my materials as a language.'

She reviewed her existing work and decided to begin again, using only the simplest means. At first, in this period of exploration, she made only black and white drawings in charcoal:

    'This was one or the best times of my life. There was no one around to look at what I was doing - no one interested - no one to say anything about it one way or another. I was alone and singularly free, working into my own unknown - no one to satisfy except myself.

Eventually she bundled the drawings up and sent them to a girlfriend in New York, with strict instructions that they were not to be shown to anyone else. The friend disobeyed her, and took the sheets to the photographer- dealer Alfred Stieglitz at 291. Stieglitz was impressed, and kept them. In April 1916, still without O'Keeffe's knowledge, he hung them as part of a three-person show. As it happened, O'Keeffe was back in New York, and hearing of the matter, went to the gallery to make Stieglitz take them down. She failed; the result was the tentative beginning of a long relationship. In the autumn of 1916 she took another teaching post in Texas, this time as Head of the Art Department at West Texas State Normal School at Canyon. In May 1917 Stieglitz mounted a solo show for her, his last at 291, and O'Keeffe went to New York to see it. It had already been taken down, but Stieglitz rehung it so that she could judge the effect. At the same time he took the first of a long series of photographs of her. She returned to Texas for the rest of the summer, and visited New Mexico, with which she was later to become closely associated, on her way to Colorado.

georgia o'keeffe

In 1918 illness forced her to take leave of absence from teaching. Stieglitz then offered her a subsidy to enable her to take a whole year and do nothing but paint. She accepted, and resigned her post. For the next decade she was to divide her time between New York and Lake George, with occasional visits to Maine, and Stieglitz was to be her mentor, as well as her dealer. In 1919 she made what she considered to be her first fully mature oils - they were mostly abstracts, though she was never to abandon figurative painting altogether. She once said

    'Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense.'

In 1923 Stieglitz mounted a major show of one hundred other paintings at the Anderson Galleries, and in the same year they married. It is clear that he was now having an aesthetic as well as a purely practical influence on what she did: in 1924 she made her first paintings of greatly enlarged flowers, and in 1926 her first of soaring skyscrapers, both of which series owe more than a little to the way the camera sees.

O'Keeffe was fortunate in never having to struggle once Stieglitz took charge over affairs - unlike most Modernist painters she was favourably reviewed from the very first. The annual commercial exhibitions he arranged for her spanned a long period - from 1926 to 1946 - so her work was constantly in the consciousness of the gallery-going public. In 1927 her first retrospective was held, at the Brooklyn Museum. In 1929 she paid a planned visit to New Mexico, staying at Taos with Mabel Dodge Luhan, and living in a house recently vacated by D. H. Lawrence. She fell in love with the landscape, and from now on she summered in New Mexico and divided the rest of the year between New York and Lake George. In 1934 she spent her first summer at the remote Ghost Ranch, north of Abiquiu. She returned in 1935 and eventually bought the property in 1940. At the same time she began to venture rather tentatively abroad - in 1932 she went to the Gaspe country in Canada to paint the landscape and the stark farm buildings; in 1934 she went to Bermuda and in 1939 to Hawaii. Stieglitz's death in 1946 brought with it other major changes in the pattern of her life. In 1945 she had bought a house in Abiquiu itself, so that she could spend winters as well as summers in New Mexico - the ranch was too remote for severe winter weather. She now devoted three years' work to settling her husband's estate and setting up memorials to him, and then retired permanently to New Mexico.

georgia o'keeffe

In the 1950s O'Keeffe's output of paintings was relatively small, as she began to travel abroad for the first time. Her first visit to Europe was not until 1953, but during the 1950s and early 1950s she became a tireless traveller, visiting most parts of the world, and making a complete round-the-world trip in 1959.

O'Keeffe received all the usual honours given to an American artist of her eminence, among them election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1963, and to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1966.

In 1973, O'Keeffe was befriended by a talented potter, Juan Hamilton. Despite the differences in their ages (when they met, he was twenty-eight and she was eighty-six), he became her confidant and constant companion, to the point where he was accused of keeping old friends at arms' length and exerting undue influence over her. Hamilton managed her affairs and, as her eyesight deteriorated, attempted to teach her pottery skills. In 1984 O'Keeffe went to live with Hamilton and his family in Sante Fe, where she died in 1986.


Recommendation


georgia o'keeffe


Gallery


From the Lake I Petunia, 1925
by Georgia O'Keeffe
Oriental Poppies, 1928
by Georgia O'Keeffe Red Canna
by Georgia O'Keeffe
Jimson Weed, 1932
by Georgia O'Keeffe Lake George, Autumn, 1927
by Georgia O'Keeffe
White Rose W Lakspur No.2
by Georgia O'Keeffe Light Iris 1924
by Georgia O'Keeffe
White Camelia
by Georgia O'Keeffe Abstraction White Rose, 1927
by Georgia O'Keeffe
Poppy
by Georgia O'Keeffe White Flower, 1929
by Georgia O'Keeffe
Blue Morning Glories
by Georgia O'Keeffe Calla Lily Turned Away, 1923
by Georgia O'Keeffe
Deers Skull with Pedernal
by Georgia O'Keeffe






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georgia o'keeffe: an american perspective book review

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anselm kiefer | hundertwasser
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2012 by the appropriate owners of the included material

Georgia O'Keeffe Archives. ihuppert5@aol.com.