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 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 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.
|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, 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’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.