Crazy for Georgia O’Keeffe Reprise

I may not know much about art or artists, but I know that I’m crazy for Georgia O’Keeffe. At least I am since I returned from a two day mini-vacation in Toronto last summer where I took in the Georgia O’Keeffe retrospective at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
Posters for the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario
Posters for the AGO Georgia O’Keeffe show were plastered all over downtown Toronto in June 2017.
O’Keeffe was an amazing artist. A leader of the American Modernism movement, and an iconic figure in the art world. Her life is an inspiration to anyone trying to live and work on their own terms. Which is most of us, I think. Whether we succeed or not is, of course, another matter.
Georgia O'Keeffe photographed by Alfred Stieglitz in 1927
Georgia O’Keeffe photo by Alfred Stieglitz 1927
I adore her work. I know that she is most famous for her flower paintings. But I prefer her vivid landscapes, views of her adopted home in the American south west. Born in Wisconsin, she lived for many years in New York City, summering at Lake George in northern New York, with her husband photographer Alfred Stieglitz. But O’Keeffe said that beautiful as it was around Lake George, she found the rampant greenness smothering. And when she first saw the barren, arid landscape of New Mexico she felt as if she had come home. This painting below reminds me of our jaw-droppingly beautiful drive in March, along the back roads of northern Argentina. Similar colours, same starkness.
"Out Back of Marie's" 1930, by Georgia O'Keeffe
Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico: “Out Back of Marie’s II”, 1930
Still, as much as I love those stark landscapes, the paintings she made of New York City are my most favourite. I adore the black, grey, and blue on black in the painting, below, of the Radiator Building at night. The clean lines. The Art Deco sensibility. So wonderful. Most of her New York City paintings capture views from her apartment on the 30th floor of the Shelton Hotel where she and Stieglitz lived for many years. You can see several of her New York skyscraper paintings on this website. I was interested to read at the AGO exhibit that she was heavily influenced by photography, by the work of her husband and other photographer friends like Ansel Adams. The exhibit also includes works by Stieglitz and Ansel Adams.
"Radiator Building-Night" 1927, by Georgia O'Keeffe
Radiator Building- Night, New York, 1927
Stieglitz was an amazing photographer. And he spent a lot of time photographing his wife. Like this shot of her below taken in 1929. The AGO exhibit features fascinating information about O’Keeffe’s life, her marriage, and her artistic influences. Including many famous shots of her taken by Stieglitz. That’s what makes an exhibit great, for me, not just the art itself, but also the narrative of the artist’s life, and the analysis of their works and influences. I admire Georgia O’Keeffe’s work, but I’m also intrigued by her as a person.
Georgia O'Keeke photographed by Alfred Stieglitz 1929
Georgia O’Keeffe photographed by Alfred Stieglitz in 1929
 I’m intrigued by O’Keeffe’s life. And also by her style. She was frequently photographed, by her husband, by Ansel Adams, Cecil Beaton, and every major photographer of the day during her very long life. She was wonderfully photogenic. And seemed so comfortable in front of the camera. Staring, serious-eyed, off into the distance, or straight at the camera. Calm. Contemplative. Insouciant, even. And then there was her style. That pared back aesthetic. Minimalist, austere, or as one article called it “monastic.” Eschewing decoration. Severe suits. Flat shoes. Long skirts with wide heavy belts. Then there were the hats, skull-caps, and scarves.
I think it’s interesting that a few days before I left for Toronto, I saw an article in W Magazine, calling Georgia O’Keeffe the “Original American Super Model.” Okay. Maybe. But the term super model seems too shallow. How Georgia O’Keeffe looked and how she dressed is, to me, anything but shallow. Her style seems to be an expression of her artistic values, of her stripped down to the basics sensibility, an exploration of contrast, and texture, and a distillation of the essence of herself. I’m struggling to say what I mean, here. That’s because I’m not confident discussing art and artists. Now if she were a poem or a piece of literary prose I’d have no trouble waxing analytical.
The final piece in the AGO exhibit was the photo of O’Keeffe, below, taken by Canadian photographer Yousuf Kharsh 1956. According to this article in the New York Times, written as a review of another Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit, currently at the Brooklyn Museum, O’Keeffe carefully crafted her public persona. Controlling who photographed her and how. The exhibit in Brooklyn entitled “Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern” shows “fifty works of her art, alongside fifty of her garments or ensembles,” drawing parallels between her art and her wardrobe. I love the idea of doing this, examining how an artist’s work is reflected in the way they present themselves to the world. It seems as if Georgia O’Keeffe was a trailblazer in many ways, not just artistically. A strong, successful woman, charting her own course, and deftly controlling her own image. Pretty impressive.
Georgia O’Keeffe photographed by Yousuf Kharsh in 1956
 Of course there’s lots of other things to do in Toronto besides immersing oneself in high culture. It’s a wonderful city for walking, especially if the weather is beautiful. I squeezed in a little vintage shopping, exploring the stores around Kensington Market. And met an old friend for dinner. Good food, a glass or two of wine, hysterical laughter. You know, the usual.
Georgia O’Keeffe inspired iconic skyscraper image.
 So, I learned a lot at the O’Keeffe exhibit at the AGO. About art, and about Georgia O’Keeffe as a person. I discovered that I’m crazy for Georgia O’Keeffe. The art, the clothes, the whole deal.
And I admit that I may not know much about art… but I’m working on it.


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35 thoughts on “Crazy for Georgia O’Keeffe Reprise”

  1. You know about art than you think…it's not that different than the literary arts. I love Georgia O'Keefe, and saw a show a number of years ago with her early abstract paintings that preceded her other work. Look them up if you haven't seen them – amazing. I admire her as an artist and a person as well for all the reasons that you so clearly stated. She lived life on her own terms…that's for sure.

    1. I did see some of her early abstract stuff… and you're right, it was amazing. I didn't like her famous flower paintings nearly as much.

    1. Thanks, Mary. I find the lives of the artists, like O'Keeffe, just as interesting as the art. Wish I could find a "fashion identity" for myself that works as well as hers did.

  2. I've been wishing myself at that exhibit, so envious! Especially after traveling around G O'K parts of New Mexico a few years ago. Sadly not something that is working into my summer plans! My interpretation of the selfie consistency is that you have carved out your own appearance vocabulary, but perhaps its just time for some clothes shopping?


  3. I'm waiting for my husband to come home for a visit at the end of July so we can take in this exhibit together. We are avid fans of the AGO.

    That is too funny about your outfits! Ha!

    I will admit when I had my scrapbook manufacturing business almost all of my travelling outfits were well planned to avoid any repetition. Often times my images would appear in sample catalogues and I needed to ensure that I didn't look like I owned one outfit.

    Sounds like you had a blast in Toronto. Next time hopefully we can meet and not miss each other by a few feet.


    1. Does your husband travel for work, Suzanne? We did have a blast in TO. I still can't believe that we came within a few feet of meeting. That's such a coincidence!

  4. Yes,I agree-I admire her art and strong sense of style. It seems that she has found the uniform that became part of her personality.
    There are a couple of ladies here,mostly architects, I admire for the same reason
    Archana from To Universe with Love had two great posts about O'Keefe's style
    I have some perfect travel pieces,mostly outerwear,and a lot of photos of different places with the same What I Wore looks. So,I think it's cool and you are very wise 🙂
    I was looking for a perfect wide silk trousers in silk,navy-black,and a perfect navy dress. When I've found them,I totally fell in love with them and wore one or another for plays and concerts during the whole season and plan to do the same for the next one. Repetitio est mater studiorum (and elegance,too :-))

    1. O'Keeffe was wearing a uniform before it was the "cool" thing to do. I will check ou that post, thanks. I'm the same about outfit repeats… I wore my Rag and Bone navy dress to every occasion last year and will again this year. Love that quote…I may borrow it from you for my next fashion post… if you don't mind.

    2. 🙂 You are welcome-I only paraphrased it
      And if I knew English well enough ,I would "latinized" the elegance-I'm sure you could

  5. This makes me want to find a seat sale and hustle off to Toronto to enjoy this exhibit ASAP. Thanks for telling us about it. Maybe I'll find a book about the life of Georgia Okeefe, Stieglitz and Adams.

  6. A wonderful trip down memory lane. We went to the Okeefe museum in New Mexico many years ago. The landscape of the area is perfectly protrayed in her paintings. Maybe landscapes form us in many ways. What an absolutely fascinating women. She was way ahead of her time.
    Thank you….


    1. She is fascinating, isn't she? I do think that landscapes form us. My husband and I are always saying how the paintings of the Group of Seven, especially their Algonquin Park scenes, are so iconic for us, as Canadians.

  7. I only know a little about Georgia O Keeffe . We learnt of her when we visited New Mexico a few times , some years ago . She had a very personal style , especially when you consider what other women wore at that time . It all seems just as wearable today . I've not come across her New York paintings before – very interesting . I enjoyed the section on the museum site about her New Mexico homes . It's a very beautiful place & hearing her name brings back memories of the area . Thank you .
    Wendy in York

    1. I've never visited the American south west, but Hubby and I have talked about a trip down that way someday. Now I'll have more reason to want to see that area. Her clothing does still seem very wearable. Especially the long skirts and wide belts. I love those.

  8. Love Georgia O' Keefe's art. First came across her via a museum calendar and was delighted to see an exhibition some years later though it was on a much smaller scale than the one you've just visited, mostly flowers and a few landscapes and abstracts. Would love to see the city ones IRL some time. Such a fascinating woman, a visit to New Mexico to see where she spent so much time is definitely on my wish list. Nice photos. Sounds like a lovely trip. Iris

    1. That is an interesting idea, isn't it? But if you think about it… a visual statement can be made in an outfit as well as on a canvas.

  9. About ten years ago, I visited an exhibition at Vancouver Art Gallery that included landscapes, florals, abstracts as well as a fascinating survey of photographs. I followed up the visit by reading a couple of biographies — and of course it's the quirky bits that stuck in my magpie brain. For example: one of her cats used to catch rats but eat only the heads. O'Keeffe would pop the rest of the carcass in the freezer for later consumption (by the cats, I hasten to add). . . . She would always make sure to sleep in the guest room at least one night, shortly before a guest was scheduled, to make sure all was comfortable and in order. . . And in general, her practise when making purchases was to put them away for a year before using them, such was her planning. So she wouldn't have succumbed to the temptation of a new purse, bought on sale, as I did the other day, unless she knew for sure she would still want/need it in a year.
    The portraits I saw at that show (and I really can't believe it was an entire ten years ago!) so clearly testified to her singular, striking, strict, elegant, practical style. The black and white, so strong, so effective. I must say, I've been very tempted to make it out to Toronto to see that show — not looking likely, but oh so tempting.

    1. Georgia sounds as if she shops like my mum… who buys a new item and then lets it sit in the closet for a year because it's "too good to wear." Now that I've seen the exhibit in Toronto…I'd love to see the one in Brooklyn:)

  10. Not big on selfies… (Maybe if my arms were longer? Maybe if my eyes weren't so tired or my skin was 5 years younger?)

    CRAZY for modern and contemporary art! (I could go on and on and on… and have at times! There is an "Art Art Art" category on my blog…

    Georgia O'Keeffe… I had the immense privilege of reviewing a show of her work – a breadth of subjects – at the High Museum of Art (many years ago). Extraordinary, especially when you can see it up close and personal.

    1. Me too… I love 20th century art and literature. Especially the modernist stuff. Makes me wonder what O'Keeffe would have made of Hemingway. I'd love to be a fly on the wall at that meeting:)

  11. That is so cool. Love it. I just got seeing a lot of art recently- an exhibit of Dali, Stuart Davis and the early works of Monet. I would love to see an exhibit of her work in a local museum.

  12. This was such an interesting read. O'Keeffe is my sister's favorite artist, so over the years, she has collected many of her works. So wonderful you have shared this intimate perspective; by the way, I believe you not to be a neophyte, you sound quite well versed in the subject! I love your interpretation. I adore art, though I am more a fan of impressionists and surrealists. I am visiting you via Katherine's Corner.

  13. I love her work and her style. Those lines and colours are incredible. I've just bought myself an Art Pass so I can start going to more exhibitions. Something I haven't since I was an art student, it's so exciting.

    Yvadney (Mums That Slay) x

  14. Saw the Georgia O'Keeffe exhibit based on the "Living Modern" book last summer at the Brooklyn Museum and it was amazing. The exhibit touted her as the first female modernist.

    My knowledge of art is pretty sketchy, but I have always loved her aesthetic sensibility, especially as it relates to her personal style–the black vaquero hat she adopted after her move to New Mexico makes my heart go pitter-pat with its sexy coolness…and practicality.

    So understandably, my favorite part of the exhibit were her wardrobe pieces, the first of which she sewed herself, and the later designer pieces as her finances improved.

    The Living Modern book portrays her as a stark individualist even in high school and so she resisted the trends in dress for young ladies of the time and opted for stark pulled back hair rather than curls, and a clean-lined wardrobe based on black and white.

  15. Hope you and your husband are having a successful 2018 camping trip, Sue. 🙂

    I lived in Taos, New Mexico, for ten years and, like many women, became an O'Keeffeophile. Her home in Abiquiu is not far from Taos and is a required pilgrimage for many who visit Northern New Mexico.

    So many artists, writers, poets, and art market makers wound up in Taos, thanks to the artists' salon created there by Mabel Dodge Luhan. Those who visited the salon often, sometimes spending several seasons or even years there, included O'Keeffe, D.H. Lawrence, Ansel Adams, Fechin, Mabel Dodge Luhan, Millicent Rogers, Willa Cather, Lincoln Steffens, and scores of other boldface names from the arts in the 1920s – 50s.

    As today, there was a global circuit through which people in the arts traveled, lived, and worked — New York City, Paris, Florence, California, etc. — and Taos joined that circuit as a "must go there" place everyone wanted to visit. Some even moved there to live for a season or a lifetime.

    Here's just a tiny bit of information about that world. But be careful — you could easily fall down the rabbit hole to emerge months later. And please do visit Northern New Mexico. It's like no other place in this world and worth any effort you must make to go there. I simply cannot explain its magic. You must go there to experience it.

    Ann in Missouri

  16. Sue, Your observations and thoughts are so raw and open to further exploration. I imagine that creating a blog is a risky business. Through your blogs, you open worlds for me. Thank-you. B

  17. There is a fascinating book on O'Keeffe with the same name as the Brooklyn show…GEORGIA O'KEEFE, LIVING MODERN. Worth getting. We just visited her home and studio in Abiquiu, NM. What a wonderful experience. Purchased two other books, A SENSE OF PLACE and one on the two homes she had in New Mexico. Just home, doing laundry and waiting to dive back into the first, the second and then the third. Gurwitz, Arizona Artist

  18. What a great look at one of our most important artists! I didn't know she painted NYC, so thanks for including that. She was more than a supermodel. She was a strong role model for the women of her generation and all of us who follow her. She seemed to have a clear sense of who she was, what she wanted and what she stood for. Such an informative piece, Sue. xoxox, Brenda

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