Georgia O’Keefe: A Life of Color and Abstraction

November 17, 2009

georgiaphoto2ArtistsinAuction

If you love color and abstraction, you won’t want to miss the Georgia O’Keefe exhibit currently on display at the Whitney Museum in NY.  By now you’ve read multiple reviews, but it can honestly be said that this is one show you have to see in order to “experience”.

While it is true that Georgia O’Keefe’s flowers and landscapes made her one of the most celebrated figures of twentieth-century art, the radical abstractions she created throughout her career are much less well known. Yet they are equally spectacular. In fact, it is her abstract work that ultimately led to her creation of landscapes and florals, and not the other way around.

For O’Keefe, abstraction offered a medium in which she could portray the “unknown” – the many intense thoughts and ideas she could not express in words. Her work conveys emotional response to people and places, as well as the rhythms of nature and the experience of being enveloped by its mystery and beauty.

The exhibit also chronicles the life saga of an extremely prolific artist, allowing us to feel her emotions as she went through different stages of elation and agony. At times her pieces explode with color, at other more distressful times, color becomes somewhat subdued.

Charcoals

In 1916, O’Keefe burst onto the New York scene with her charcoal abstracts –  some of the most radical works ever produced in the US in the twentieth century. Renowned photographer Alfred Steiglitz, who would shortly become her personal and professional partner, gave her a show in 1917, exhibiting her work for the first time at his “291” gallery.

Witness “Early Abstraction” from 1915 – a linear work that takes on the form of a piece of sculpture.

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"Early Abstraction," 1915


Vibrant Oils

She first introduced oils at the Anderson Galleries in 1923, marking the public’s first view of her work since 1917 at “291.” It was a jubilant time for O’Keefe, both artistically and personally, and the vibrant colors she uses – fiery reds, lush greens, erotic greens and yellow – convey her exhilaration. Favorites of ours include “Pink and Green,” 1922, “Corn Dark,” 1924, “Red Canna,” 1925-1928, and “White Sweet Peas,” 1926 (you’ll have to see these for yourself in person).

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"Abstraction," 1926

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"Grey, Blue & Black-Pink Circle," 1929

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"Flower Abstraction," 1924

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"Abstraction White Rose," 1927

There is one particularly darker piece from this time period, a work that portrays her experience of undergoing anesthesia before an operation to remove a benign breast cyst – “Black Abstraction,” 1927.

O’Keefe married Steiglitz in 1924 and they spent winters in NYC and summers at his home on Lake George. Many of the colorful lake series were produced during the peaceful times spent there.

Darker times

O’Keefe first started to travel to New Mexico in 1929. Steiglitz was having an affair with a younger woman and she felt the need to escape. In 1932 she suffered a nervous breakdown and stopped painting altogether until 1934. For the next ten years abstraction figured very little into her work until the Black Place Series, which were based on an area in New Mexico 150 miles west of her home at Ghost Ranch.

Paving the way

After Steiglitz’s death in 1946, O’Keefe moved permanently to New Mexico, at which time she began to introduce flat geometric planes of color, a factor that would play a central role in the art of the 1960’s. A great example is “Black Door with Red” from 1954.

A personal favorite is the opening work to the exhibit – “Above the Clouds” – an absolute masterpiece, which was created in the early 1960’s.

Although the exhibit stops around this time period, O’Keefe would go on to expand and evolve through her painting. She died in 1986 – at the ripe old age of 98 – having left an indelible mark on the world of abstract art.

To view the ArtistsinAuction website click here.

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"Black Door with Red," 1954

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"Above the Clouds," 1962-63

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One Response to “Georgia O’Keefe: A Life of Color and Abstraction”

  1. Sidney said

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