Georgia O'Keeffe (November 15, 1887 - March 6, 1986)
"When you look at an empty canvas you see your whole life looking back at you".
O'Keeffe had the idea she was going to be a painter when she was no more than 12 years old, perhaps it is that shared thought that draws me to her work now. I must admit when i was an art student I dismissed her work as decorative and apolitical. It is not until now, some 25 years later, that I am taking a fresh look at her work. What i see is a beacon of light through which she illuminated her own path. A truly inspirational artist.
“I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing that I wanted to do.”
An inspiration for many as a major force in the development of modernist visual language in America but perhaps for me more because of her fierce determination and courage to keep going on a path of her own making. Painting takes courage and despite her fears she kept going with a single-minded vision. A vision spanning 70 years in which she painted her own truth in a fusion of abstract and real.
“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.”
Her intense emotional response to nature touches me directly. I understand when she says "I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for". In that I find myself comparing her work with the cave paintings of Lascaux or Altamira, paintings on walls in caves made by our ancestors, before language.
Her images speak to me. In the bones she found in the desert, purified by the elements, I find joy and the connectedness of all things. In the flowers I find a harmony in the microcosm of her world. O'Keeffe said of flowers “If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for a moment.” To look at an O'Keeffe flower is to be given a window through which to see your own world. In her city-scapes i find our humanity, the monoliths we construct to declare ourselves, made fragile by the simple act of light. In her landscapes i find a wonder of place, of a natural world to which we all belong.
“I said to myself, I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me - shapes and ideas so near to me - so natural to my way of being and thinking that it hasn't occurred to me to put them down. I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught - yo accept as true my own thinking”
Words of wisdom for women painters in particular.
“I think it's so foolish for people to want to be happy. Happy is so momentary--you're happy for an instant and then you start thinking again. Interest is the most important thing in life; happiness is temporary, but interest is continuous.” Georgia O'Keeffe
Listen to O'Keeffe talking about her work in these brief clips