Friday, June 01, 2007

Georgia O'Keeffe Month: Macro Flowers

White Tulip
8" x 8", coloured pencils on Saunders Waterford Hot Press paper
copyright Katherine Tyrrell

I'm going to be spending June studying Georgia O'Keefe as per my plan for 2007.

I adore flowers and images of flowers and enjoy the process of developing artwork based on a flower or flowers as much as looking at the end result. In developing my own work I've become increasingly drawn to the notion of exploring the flower through focusing on the structure of a single bloom.
I now want to see how I can develop further and this is what this month will be all about. Naturally, in wanting to learn more about how best to do this, I've become very interested in the work of Georgia O'Keeffe - hence Georgia O'Keeffe month!

Last year I was very fortunate in being able to visit the Georgia O'Keeffe museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico and was able to see a lot of her work first hand. The museum is dedicated to
perpetuating the artistic legacy of Georgia O’Keeffe and to the study and interpretation of American Modernism (1890–present). It is celebrating its 10th anniversary in 2007 and is consequently arranging a variety of anniversary events. Anybody in the area or visiting might like to check out this page on the museum website.

So now for a bit of background, although a number of the sites listed below provide more thorough biographies for those who are interested. Georgia O'Keeffe is one of the most famous women artists - mainly due to the popularity of her flower images. She was born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on November 15th 1887 and died in Santa Fe on March 6th 1986 at the age of 98.

Her talent was recognised from a young age and at the age of 9 she decided to be an artist. Her formal studies and training involved stints at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and New York's Art Students League. She then spent two years being a freelance commercial artist followed by an extended period, from 1911 through 1918, she taught at schools in Virginia, South Carolina, and Texas.

On one of her summer vacations, she took some classes in Virginia which exposed her to the theories and ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow. These stress the importance of developing a personal style through paring forms down to their essentials of line, colour and 'notan' (dark and light patterns) to create harmonies.
Dow developed a personal style that assimilated the influences of Japonisme, synthesism, and Impressionism. His work is distinctive in its simplification of colorful forms that read as flat shapes on the two-dimensional surface (Georgia O'Keeffe Museum "Arthur Wesley Dow and American Arts & Crafts)
I came home from Santa Fe with a copy of "Composition" by Arthur Wesley Dow (with a new introduction by John Mashick - details below). I'm intending that part of this month should involve a thorough study of the theory which was a big influence on O'Keeffe's work. (I'm finding the impact of the art of East on artists that we have been studying to be absolutely fascinating.)
In 1915 O'Keeffe destroyed her earlier work, and embarked on a series of spare, elegant, and extremely radical charcoal drawings and watercolors that led directly to experiments with total abstraction.
More about what happened next in the next post. In the meantime, here are some links to sites which tell you more about Georgia O'Keeffe and have images of her work.
I have a problem with posting her images in this blog. Basically since she's not been dead for 70 years her work is not copyright free and in the public domain. However her drawings and paintings of flowers are extremely popular which means that there are lots of images on the web which can be linked to - try googling Georgia O'Keeffe and you'll see what I mean! I might try the museum and see whether I can get permission but I'm not hopeful - so expect to see a lot of my work and lots of links to hers!

I've been developing a very extensive collection of flower photos to use as a resource for my artwork. I'm now off to Kew Gardens and am taking my camera to record a few more flower photos. I'm finding that using a camera can often be akin to using a sketchbook for initial drawings and thumbnails. Taking lots of photos enables me to find different ways of approaching an image - in terms of line, colour and pattern.

Finally, I'm looking for a good reference book on Georgia O'Keeffe at the moment and haven't been able to find one. Anybody got any suggestions?

Books: "Composition: A Series of Exercises in Art Structure for the Use of Students and Teachers" (Paperback) by Arthur Wesley Dow (Author), Joseph Masheck (Author). Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (February 1998). ISBN-10: 0520207491;ISBN-13: 978-0520207493

Links to my website: