Thursday, December 5, 2013

O'Keeffe, Georgia

The Lawrence Tree
oil on canvas
31 x 40 in.
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, USA

Painted in the summer of 1929 while visiting author D.H. Lawrence at his Kiowa Ranch near Taos during O'Keeffe's first trip to New Mexico, the tree stands in front of the house. In her words:  "...There was a long weathered carpenter's bench under the tall tree in front of the little old house that Lawrence had lived in there. I often lay on that bench looking up into the tree...past the trunk and up into the branches. It was particularly fine at night with the stars above the tree."

From 1979 to 1989 the Wadsworth Anthneum in Hartford, Connecticut hung The Lawrence Tree by O'Keeffe upside down. In 1990 the piece joined a traveling O'Keeffe retrospective organized by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Exhibition officials researching the work discovered letters from O'Keeffe complaining that the work had been hung the wrong way in an exhibition in 1931. The manner she described matched the same manner that the Wadsworth used to hang the painting. After the exhibition completed, Wadsworth hung the painting the way O'Keeffe had intended.

"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." (O'Keeffe)

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." 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)

In her later years, she became totally blind and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98. 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". The brilliance of her art work has proven timeless. O'Keeffe, not only carved out a significant place for women painters in an area of the American art community that had been exclusive to and is still dominated by men, but also she had become one of America’s most celebrated cultural icons well before her death. The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe opened in 1997.

"When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the 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." (O'Keeffe)