Sunday, September 2, 2012

O'Keeffe, Georgia

My Shanty, Lake George
oil on canvas
20 x 27 1/8 in.
The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., USA

O’Keeffe was first introduced to the Lake George area in 1907, when she was a student at the Art Students League and received a scholarship to paint in the region. My Shanty reveals a vocabulary of simplified forms, precise edges, and repeated horizontals. The old farm building, which served as the artist's summer studio, is solid and clearly defined. Although it is seemingly a literal depiction of the building, the composition cannot be classified simply as representational or precisionist. It illustrates O'Keeffe's tendency to overlay objective fact with spiritual and symbolic meanings; at the end of the building's gable roof, the triangular shape of the structure is emphasized, a compositional choice that O’Keeffe may have derived from the theories of Wassily Kandinsky, who believed that the triangle was a symbol of the soul.

Georgia Totto O'Keeffe (1887 - 1986) was an American artist. She was born in a farmhouse on a large dairy farm near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. She distinguished herself as one of America's most important modern artists, a position she maintained throughout her life.

Known for the flower paintings which encompass a quarter of her work, O’Keeffe was originally inspired by nature during her childhood in rural Wisconsin. Shunning her artistic education in favor of expressing her emotions, she enlarged flowers until they became abstract artforms whose sheer size commanded attention. "Precisionist", is the term most widely used to describe her work. O’Keeffe’s great clarity in painting is what identifies her well-known paintings of urban architecture, mountains, bones, and flowers. The simple, clear forms in her masterpieces made her a pioneer of a new modernism in the USA. Although O’Keeffe used her subject matter representationaly, the starkly linear quality, the thin, clear coloring, and boldly patterned compositions give the effect of an abstract design. She was the first woman honored with her own exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. New York Times described her paintings as both "bold and hermetic, immediately appealing and unnervingly impassive."

At the age of 84, she began to go blind, eventually retaining only peripheral vision. She did her last unassisted oil painting in 1972. The next year, a young ceramic artist, Juan Hamilton, arrived at her door to offer his assistance as a handyman. He became her controversial assistant, companion, and representative for her remaining years. In 1984, in failing health, O'Keeffe moved to Santa Fe to live with Juan Hamilton and his family. The next year she died at the age of 98, leaving most of her estate to Juan Hamilton, which prompted a legal suit by O'Keeffe's family. Hamilton eventually agreed to turn over more than two-thirds of his inheritance to the museums and institutions in her original will. In 1997, the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum opened in Santa Fe, with its first exhibition curated by Juan Hamilton. It is the first art museum dedicated to the work of an internationally acclaimed woman artist.

In accordance with her wishes, her body was cremated and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Pedernal Mountain, over her beloved "faraway".
"I paint not what I could see, but a music only I can hear."  "The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint." Abstraction and representation for O’Keeffe were neither binary nor oppositional. She moved freely from one to the other, cognizant that all art is rooted in an underlying abstract formal invention. For O’Keeffe, abstraction offered a way to communicate ineffable thoughts and sensations. Abstraction allowed her to express intangible experience - be it a quality of light, color, sound, or response to a person or place. O’Keeffe's goal as a painter was to "make the unknown - known. By unknown I mean the thing that means so much to the person that he wants to put it down - clarify something he feels but does not clearly understand." (O’Keeffe)