Georgia O’Keefe -Famous for her large flower paintings, is also known for her paintings of desert landscapes and animal skulls.
Georgia was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, on Nov. 15, 1887. She lived on a dairy farm and was the oldest of 7 children. She announced at age 12 that she was going to be an artist. Her parents encouraged her.
She attended High School at Sacred Heart Academy in Madison, WI in 1901 and 1902. Her family moved to Virginia and she joined them there to finish high school. She enrolled in the Art Institute of Chicago, before moving to New York City where she attended the Art Students League. Georgia was taught Realism: art that showed life as it really was. She won an award for her untitled work portraying a dead rabbit and a copper pot.
While in NY, she would visit an Art Gallery called 291, owned by who would become her future husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz. Alfred promoted work of Modern Artists, such as Henri Matisse and Paul Cezanne.
Georgia was not happy painting as she had been taught. She wanted to paint how she felt, not what she saw. A friend of Georgia’s showed Alfred her drawings. Alfred was impressed with Georgia’s drawings. They took his breath away. He said, “At last, a woman on paper! Will you tell her this is the purest most sincere work that has entered 291 in a long while.” He exhibited 10 of her drawings without her permission. When she confronted him about this, he talked her into letting the pieces stay in his Gallery.
Alfred thought Georgia was beautiful and used her as a model for his photographs. He photographed Georgia hundreds of times, beginning in 1917. Working together so closely, they fell in love and were married in 1924.
Georgia painted the City of New York, something in those days that was unusual for a female. Most artist at the time were men. If women were artist, they were teachers. During their 22 years of marriage, Alfred and Georgia complemented each other’s talents. He displayed her work in his Gallery every year. She learned from his photographic methods. Photography was a new medium in the 1920′s. You can see the influence of sharp focus, cropping, enlarging and focal point in her works. She painted views from low angles like a photographer looking up at the skyscrapers. She simplified what she saw. Georgia said, “One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.”
Georgia said, “Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”
She said, ” I often paint fragments of things because it made my statement better than the whole could.”
In 1924, while they lived in NY, Georgia began painting the large flowers. She said she wanted to make the busy New Yorkers stop and take time to look at the flowers. These paintings were fresh and new. They shocked people. The flowers were not small or fragile, they were bold, like Georgia herself. Alfred promoted her works. One of her paintings of flowers sold for $25,000, which was the most at the time of any American Artist.
You can see the influence of “enlarging” and “cropping” in her flower pictures.
Her paintings of flowers were so large that they became unrecognizable as flowers and the pictures became Abstract instead of realistic.
Some of her quotes about her flower paintings.
” I have painted what each flower is to me and I have painted it big enough so that others would see what I see.”
“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it is your world for a moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not”
“I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.”
“I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking the time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers.”
“I found I could say things with colors that I couldn’t say in any other way – things that I had no words for.”
After Alfred died, Georgia moved to New Mexico in 1949. She had visited there many times and made it her home for the rest of her life. Georgia loved the contrast of the calm desert to the busy city. She painted the hills of the desert. She painted the jimsonweed that grew outside of her door. She loved and painted the organic shape of the dry bones that she picked up on her long walks.
Georgia said the animal bones “were my way of saying something about this country…”
” The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive in the desert.”
“All the earth colors of the painter’s palette are out there in the many miles of badlands.”
Georgia said, “I think I am one of the few who gives our country any voice of its own.”
” One can not be an American by going about saying that one is an American. It is necessary to feel America, like America, love America and then work.”
Georgia received many awards for her artwork and traveled around the world, but she loved her home in New Mexico on Ghost Ranch. She could be seen regularly painting her big canvas in the desert, wearing her long black dress, her white hair in a bun. Her eyesight began to fail when she was in her 80′s. She continued to paint; her last unassisted oil was finished in 1972.
Georgia tried her hand at pottery after she stopped painting with oils. She also worked in watercolor and charcoal, then in graphite until 1984.
Georgia said, “The days you work are the best days.”
“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.”
She said, “I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life-and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”
She died in 1986 at the age of 98 years old. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered around the Cerro Pedernal, the mountain that she could see from the patio of her Ghost Ranch home. She had painted it several times.
The Cincinnati Art Museum acquired their first O’Keefe in 2013. The painting is not large, only 18″ x 24″. It is called “My Back Yard” and was painted by Georgia in 1943. The Cincinnati Art Museum paid over 1.8 million dollars for this piece.
Scholastic ART Dec. 2011/Jan. 2012 Georgia O’Keefe Abstraction
Here is a link to a cute children’s video on Georgia. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFxYV5ki_z4