Georgia O’Keeffe takes a summer vacation to New Mexico

After visiting the Tate Modern (2016) exhibition I was delighted to find out about her work beyond her infamous flowers.  I found her large New Mexico landscapes of stark rocks appealing and similar to landscapes that I’d seen and passed through whilst on a road trip to the south west states in 2006.  It turns out I passed close by to where she made her home in New Mexico (near by 240 miles) at Abiquiu.

Here I present 5 key findings from a quick delve into finding out about O’Keeffe, her relationship with Stieglitz, influence of photography, her fellow vacation companions and understanding art terms that describe her work.

As with all good summer holidays it become easy to imagine making the place your home.  With Georgia, after the cacaos of New York, the vast open spaces in New Mexico gave her new sense of freedom, independence and a feeling of a place where she belonged.

5 key pieces of information

1. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) Messinger, L. 2004. Essay extract “stayed true to her own vision, which was based on finding the essential abstract forms in nature.With exceptionally keen powers of observation and great finesse with a paintbrush, she recorded subtle nuances of colour, shape, and light that enlivened her paintings and attracted a wide audience. Her primary subjects were landscapes, flowers, and bones, explored in series over several years and even decades. The images were drawn from her life experience and related either generally or specifically to places where she lived.”

I have included this exert as it describes her approach to art really well. At the exhibition I was surprised by her art beyond the flowers.  I like her “Natural”, and “Subtle nuances of colour” her ability to blend colours was extraordinary. Also that she stuck to doing her own thing and repeated exploring similar themes.

2. Alfred Stieglitz and Modern American Photography – Hostetler (2004) Essay. describes how Stieglitz was “determined to prove that photography was a medium as capable of artistic expression as painting or sculpture.” He moved away from the intense manipulation of photographic prints of his contemporaries that took away from the photographers initial compositions and “he achieved the desired affiliation with painting through compositional choices and the use of natural elements like rain snow and steam, to unify the components of a scheme into a visually pleasing pictorial whole.” He organised exhibitions and these came known as “291” for it’s address on fifth avenue, New York. Through organising the exhibitions he supported American modern photographers and modern artists, as well as European modernism including work of Pablo Picasso. After World War I modernism in photography developed and Stieglitz with Paul Strand pushed forwards with the development of abstract photography and fragmented images (e.g. portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe) that captured fleeting emotions or images, rather than a figurative whole “the realisation that truth in the modern world is relative and that photographs are as much as expression of the photographer’s feelings for the subject as they are a reflections of the subject depicted.”

It is useful to understand the influence of Stieglitz on O’Keeffe in addition to be her husband. He was at the front of American Modernist Photography along with his mentee Paul Strand who is credited with the first deliberate abstract photograph. It puts into some context O’Keeffe use of scale and cropping (photography) techniques and relates to her approach to abstraction in her paintings.

3. Journey to Taos – exert from Johnston, H. (2016:17-18), “instead of her usual summer stay in Lake George, O’Keeffe departed for New Mexico in April 1929 with Strand’s wife Rebecca. An escape from Stieglitz family gatherings at Lake George and the fever of New York City, the trip was an act of independence from her husband and a search for new artistic stimulation. New Mexico had been a destination for artists since the Taos Society in the late nineteenth century, and Hartley and the Strands had already visited. O’Keeffe was also returning to a place that had captivated her since August 1917 when a rerouted train journey on a holiday to Colorado took her through the landscape. As the guest of arts patron, writer and socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan – who was married to Pueblo Indian, tony Luhan – O’Keeffe spent four months in Taos. Also in residence were photographer Ansel Adams (who became a life long friend), Marin and the Mexican artist and writer Miguel Covarrubias.”
Freedom and escape from New York, Stieglitz and his stuffy family. His potential affaire. Feels like a time to hang out with her own friends (similar ages) again photography dominated. Like the accidental discovery of Taos. Connection to the origins of the land with the native Pueblo and Taos Pueblo that is still occupied. Later quote from O’Keeffe was “I feel like myself, in the right place again” quote from letter to Henry Mcbride (art critic)

4. Art terms applied to Georgia O’Keeffe found during research are as follows: “important avant-garde painters in America before 1945″ (Phaidon. 1996:346). Ianuszcza (2016:10) suggests O’Keeffe “explored the foggy border zone that separates abstraction from figuration” and describes her “being a woman artist in modernist America was pioneering enough…”
So what do these art terms mean? Wilson, S. and Lack, L. 2008:32 definitions:
abstraction “to separate or withdraw something from something else” “artists has started with some visible object and abstracted elements from it to arrive at a simplified or schematised form” “also applied to art using forms that have no source at all in external reality..” there’s a cluster of theoretical ideas but “the idea of art for arts sake – that art should be purely about the creation of beautiful effects; the idea that art can or should be like music – that just as music is patterns of sound, art’s effects should be created by pure pattern of form, colour and line.”
figuration related to the arrival of abstract art “refer to any form of modern art that retains strong references to the real world and particularly to the human figure.” “also applies to all art before abstract art.”
avant-garde when applied to art means “that which is at the forefront, is innovatory, which introduces and explores new forms and in some cases new subject matter” “there have been successive movements of modern art”. “the notion of the avant-garde enshrines the idea that art should be judged primarily on the quality and originality of the artist’s vision and ideas.”
modernism “in the field of art the broad movement in Western Art, architecture and design which self-consciously rejected the past as a model for the art of the present” “gathered pace from about 1850” “characterised by constant innovation. But modern art has been also been driven by various social and political agendas. These were often utopian, and modernism was in general associated with ideal visions of human life and society and a belief in progress.” See book for further definition for how it links to realism and post-modernism.
Definitions are always useful. Modernism and Abstraction (will need to explain this more another time!)

5. PaintingBlack Mesa Landscape/Out Back of Marie’s II painted in 1930
An image to include is essential, this was used in Times piece head for the hills and I particularly liked it at exhibition. Still shows lovely folds and shapes similar to that in her flowers. Also use of blue distance and red warm in foreground. Like shape and topography, flowing…

References- Bibliography
Hostetler, L. (2004) Alfred Stieglitz (1894 – 1946) and American Photography. At: (Accessed on 19 December 2016)
Ianuszcza, W. (2016) ‘Heading for the Hills’ In: Culture, The Sunday Times 10 July 2016 p.10 & 11
Johnston, H. (2016) Georgia O’Keeffe. London: Tate Publishing.
Messinger, L. (2004) Georgia O’Keeffe (1887 – 1986) At: (Accessed on 19 December 2016)
Phaidon (1996) The 20th-Century Artbook. London:Phaidon
O’Keeffe, G. (2016) Georgia O’Keeffe. [Exhibition]. London: Tate Modern. 6 July – 30 October 2016.
Wilson, S. and Lack, L. (2008) The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms. London Tate Publishing
How to reference in the text
Hostetler, L. 2004
Ianuszcza, 2016:10-11
Johnston, 2016:17-18
Messinger, L. 2004
Phaidon. 1996:346
Tate Modern 2016
Wilson, S. and Lack, L. 2008:130


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