“No sex please!” The art of Georgia O´Keeffe

Albeit the work of Georgia O’Keeffe is often associated with femininity, sexuality and mystique, the truth is that she did not mean anything of the sorts.  IN fact, all her life she tried to dispel the simplistic associations and the labeling of calling her one of the “greatest “female” painters” in America, the world, the 20th century!  With the great retrospective of American Artist Georgia O´Keeffe at Tate Modern (until October 2017) we are having the opportunity to re-evaluate and understand the work and life of one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. Beyond the sinuous flowers and the appropriations of symbols and meanings that various groups have made of her work, this exhibition connects ideas and inspirations relevant for artists today, and why not, to people searching for independence.  IN this post I will try to weave threads from my reading of Roxana Robinson’s biography of O’Keeffe with my own digital paintings, made in situ with my iPad. I do not try to “copy” what I “saw”, but rather the ipad paintings show how I did “see and feel about” Georgia’s paintings.

(Podcast en español, disponible en http://www.spreaker.com/user/beatrizacevedoart/georgia-okeeffe-en-espanol)

Born in 1887 in rural Wisconsin, Georgia was the second child of  a family of hard working and independent women. Early in her teens, she decided to follow an artistic path, defying conventional roles, her own rural background and in so, struggling to find and speak her own voice. Soon after she finished her formal training as an artist, she came across the work of Arthur Dove, urging for an spiritual and emotional connection with art, hence, rejecting mere representation to give place to emotions, feelings and spirituality. As described by Robinson in the artist’s biography, Georgia -who used to be the best in her class- soon realised that it is not the technical ability but the possibility of communicate a feeling, an emotion, a personal story, that really connects the work, and makes it art. This idea can be applied to education in general, and as a lecturer my purpose is not to convey information that students can find in books and internet, but to seed a yearning for knowledge and learning, to promote values and virtues and in general to make that both students and educators find creative ways to engage with our responsibilities.

iPad paintings made with Brushes App. Original by Beatriz Acevedo. Copyright.

Nevertheless, her breakthrough in the world of art happened in New York City, when her dear friend Anita Politzer showed a bunch of Georgia’ charcoal paintings to the gallerist and photographer Alfred Stieglitz in 1915. The purity and clarity of these paintings, an early example of a home-grown American Modernism, impressed the art promoter, who exhibited in his gallery The “291”. This was the beginning of a long standing correspondence and alliance that would become a romantic liaison in 1918 and a challenging marriage six years later, when he was granted his divorce, in 1924. In spite of the age difference, and the so opposed personalities, the relationship flourished and allowed them to feed in each other talents.  Alfred took some revealing and beautifully captured pictures of Georgia -now assuming the role of model- while she was interested in finding her own voice and take on modern topics such as the metropolis, but also, in her own inclination for the West landscapes and its impressions on her, for instance, trying to represent the sound and might of a herd of cattle in the Texan sunset…

As part of her life with Alfred, Georgia was sucked in Alfred’s family routine of spending every summers in Lake George. She tried to carve her own space with solitary walks, and soon she had to escape to nearby Maine for peace and silence.  At the time she was fascinated with water, the flow of rivers and the might of storms, the windy waves of the Atlantic In Maine. According to her biographer, this flowing quality appealed to the Georgia of this time, the flowing, the accommodating, yet the power and the fury. In the meanwhile,  Alfred was the centre of artistic development and a man of habits, also a philanderer, who could not see a disagreement in his search for beauty and the betrayal of his first wife, with Georgia, and later of Georgia herself with other ladies who attracted him.  Albeit he supported her, every time that Georgia started a new project, he was nervous and rather discouraging… For example, when she started on the series of Flowers, she was focused not on the “feminine” but rather in transforming the “humble flower” into a powerful and aesthetic statement, “flooding NYC with flowers”.

iPad paintings made with Brushes App. Original by Beatriz Acevedo. Copyright.

In 1929 she travelled for the first time to New Mexico, where she stayed at Mabel Dodge Luhan’s house in Taos: a rich and eccentric lady who was part of an artistic community in the place. Taos was a magnet for artists and writers, such as DH Lawrence, Aldous Huxley and his wife.  Georgia became fascinated with the landscape and its immensity: there she learned to drive and took on huge hikes across the expansive country.  She also got impressed by the resilience of the people, descendants of Indian and Spaniards cornered in that arid and difficult land, with their gods and their beliefs. She found the “Penitentes Crosses” fascinating and that connected her with her own development of ideas, which tried to reaffirm her own particular personality, and reconnect with what Steven Spielberg calls the “inner voice [that] never shouts, only whispers”. For doing so, Georgia chose the expansive landscapes of the West, the Territories taken from Mexico, where the terrain is arid, the view is enormous and the inhabitants resilient and hardened. This was Georgia´s ¨country¨, a place where she could be herself, be in silent, a place to build her independence both as an artist and as a woman.

iPad paintings made with Brushes App. Original by Beatriz Acevedo. Copyright.

This first encounter with New Mexico was also her way to deal with Alfred’s authoritarian and rather careless ways, his affair with Dorothy Norman ( a young married woman who became obsessed with Alfred), as well as his neediness and his possessiveness over Georgia both as a woman and as an artist.  The pressure got to its climax when she accepted a commission for the NY Music Hall, defying Stieglitz strong opposition to this project and the fact that she excluded him of the negotiations.  The situation got even more complicated because in the middle of the process, some of her preliminary work was damaged by humidity and there were some bureaucratic quarrels that broke her trust and her self-belief. This prompted a dramatic nervous breakdown, caused by the years of bottling up her resentment for Alfred’s affair and authoritarianism, her sense of failure with the Music Hall comission, and the fact that she was sucked and fed up with having her life spinning around others’ interests – mainly her demanding husband and his fixed routines -.

After almost two years of solitude, care and much rest, Georgia recovered and miraculously, the marriage survived. This breakdown shocked Alfred who realized how dependent he was on Georgia, and how he was somehow responsible for her fall.  After some months, she decided to travel back to New Mexico, this time to a new area, beyond the gossipy community of Taos.  She installed herself first in Ghost Ranch, and later on the beautiful town of Abiquiu…. from there she explored the landscapes and fell in love with the mountains and its colours: the tones of ocre, terracota, golden, black land of her surroundings, replacing the flowers with skeletons and skulls of cows and antelopes, and the city skyscrapers with blue mountains and bright skies.  According to the biographer, Georgia’s former fascination with water was replaced by an earthy sentiment, perhaps, a way of re-connecting with the elements, and affirming her decision of keeping her feet on her own ground.

iPad paintings made with Brushes App. Original by Beatriz Acevedo. Copyright.

And I am there… in this part of the biography… I know that she will have still many years to live. I know that she survived her husband who died in 1946 and since then she moved permanently to New Mexico, where she found her place in an adobe house in Abuiqui. She also travelled the world and kept on painting, moving more and more toward abstractionism, toward the simplification of forms and the distilling of feelings and emotions. And that is precisely what I get from this exhibition… the realisation that from my coming out of the closet I have been experimenting and trying to find my own voice. As a self-taught artist, this is a solitary process: in the absence of an educational structures, I have to try and fail many times. I learned at my own convenience and although informed by my own reading of the world of art and contemporary trends, my path is only mine, and my transformation is intimate and personal.  I only hope that in this slow process I am also transforming myself, and that my art -not only paintings, illustrations, but also writing, podcasts and ways of being- become the testimony of such a change…

 

London, July 20, 2016

 

Advertisements

Playing lines with Alexander “Sandy” Calder

Although I have not been really interested in men the last two years, this one has really impressed me. Alexander “Sandy” Calder’s expansive personality and playful art  really captivated my heart and imagination (Tate Modern, until 3 of April/2016) . … Continue reading

Seriously Delauneyed

If you are planning to visit the exhibition of Sonia Delauney at Tate Modern, you need to be seriously prepared.  For starts, it is a huge exhibition crossing all sort of mediums, styles and artistic movements: from fauvism to abstraction, … Continue reading

Mira Schendel: Identity and Being (Tate Modern, London)

How do we live in this world? How we re-invent our identities in new contexts  from old traces, rushed scraps of memories and journeys? How can we make sense of  a changing world oscillating between faith and reason, uncertainty and … Continue reading

Women Artists at Tate Modern (1): Saloua Raouda Choucair

This year has been particularly fertile for the featuring of women artists at one of my favorite galleries: Tate Modern.  Although it is not a topic that I am consciously investigating, I’ve been attracted more and more by the type … Continue reading