Featured Artist: Georgia O'Keeffe

Barb Toland

So this week I thought we'd talk more about some of her art, and her life as an artist in general. We're specifically going to focus on her floral paintings, since they have had such a huge influence on my work, and how I approach painting. I also think they resonate with many people, and what she is most known for.

Here are a couple photographs of her. As you can see she has a very intense way about her, which is very much reflected in her art.

Georgia O'Keeffe was born in 1887 in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1986, at the age of 98. Living almost a century is remarkable in & of itself. Imagine (especially being an artist & an intense observer of life) what she absorbed into her visual catalog during that time.

At the young age of 18 she began her formal education as an artist at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and then moved on to the Art Students League in New York. It was here that she met artist, Arthur Wesley Dow who greatly contributed to changing the trajectory of her art, and ultimately her life.

Arthur Wesley Dow taught, believed in, and encouraged his students to think of art in a more abstract manner, following the line & form of a subject - and think less about art as mere decoration or ornamentation. It was this modern, new way of looking at art that significantly impacted Georgia O'Keeffe and her work.

So let's pause at this point in O'Keeffe's life and explore how this concept of shifting focus to line & form, and less on content translates to her work.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so to really get this concept let's look at one of her paintings that fully embodies this concept:

Abstraction White Rose, 1927
Oil on canvas, 36" x 30"
Georgia O'Keeffe Museum

Obviously this is a rose, but it's not what O'Keeffe focuses on, nor cares about in this piece. What she is much more fascinated with is its form. What the lines of it look like, where they go, how they relate to each other. Even though she's inspired by the rose, it's only her jumping off point so to speak. She is much more intensely interested in those gorgeous undulating lines ... the path of things.

Ok, so let's take a look at another:

Yellow Calla, 1926
Oil on fiberboard, 9" x 13"
Smithsonian American Art Museum

I am so impressed by her ability here to capture the form of the calla lily, and not its detail. This one is surreal as well, floating thru the clouds. She does not waste one single line, they all count & have intent. I also want to mention that her sense of color, and also her use of shading to emphasize shape are equally amazing!

We'll look at one more, then wrap things up:

Oriental Poppies, 1927
Oil on canvas, 30" x 40"
Weisman Art Museum

Ok, so you KNOW how much I love poppies! Again, O'Keeffe focuses on line, form, color & essence. Nothing is wasted. Not one single line. Not one drop of color. She's my hero:)

Here's some of my paintings that her work & concepts have inspired (clicking on the will take you to the painting in my gallery to learn more):

 

Georgia O'Keeffe was an amazing artist & woman, who was way ahead of her time. She made up her own rules when it came to her work, and how she lived her life. And we are all the better for the independence & depth she imbued in her art.

This gives you just a taste of her fascinating work. I don't want to bog you down with too much information ... there's always Google & Youtube to learn more about her, and I highly encourage you to go explore!

So to wrap things up .. The next time you're wondering thru a gallery or museum, pay attention to the lines, contour & colour palette of something, and less so at how "pretty" it is.

Think of art as a way to tap into something deeper, and much more fascinating. By & large the really good artists take the time to dive below the surface of what is, search for its essence & story, and then attempt to capture this essence in their work.

Ultimately a good artist wants you to "feel" something, and hopefully find a stronger connection to your own inner world.

That's what great art does. It takes the outside, physical world - and makes it personal. Unique. And at the same time, paradoxically, translates it into something more universal.

As always, if this sparks an idea or insight for you, let me know all about it in the comments below!



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