Saturday, June 30, 2007

Georgia O'Keeffe month: "O'Keeffe" by Britta Benke

Yet another Taschen art book to recommend to people! "O'Keeffe" by Britta Benke (subtitle Georgia O'Keeffe, 1887-1986, Flowers of the Desert) is a splendid and very informative book. It's also a complete bargain, being available for an amazing price whichever country you live in.

The book focuses on her life, her artistic career and the development of her artistic practice. It attempts to identify all those people and events which appear to have influenced her unique vision and practice.

I was particularly struck by how her work was both stimulated by notions derived by others from the art of other cultures and, at the same time, by contemporary notions shared by other artists in her circle. A number of them developed along similar paths although ultimately producing different work.

It also became clear while reading this book that, as suspected, the advent of photography and the scope for taking close-ups appears to have had an influence on her direction.

In brief, the book covers :
  • her early development including her abstracted charcoal drawings of organic and geometric forms. This highlights:
    • the impact of Arthur W Dow (as taught by Alon Bennet) and his argument for the adoption of simplified clear forms in order to bring out the essence of things and the importance of the relationship between light and dark - 'Notan'.
Keefe's interest was particularly aroused by Dow's emphasis upon the careful and balanced arrangement of all the elements in the composition - colour, form, line, volumes and space - in order to arrive at a harmonious overall design. (O'Keeffe page 10)
colour and form should no longer be indebted to outward appearances in nature, but rather to the feelings and 'inner world' of the artist (O'Keeffe page 10)
  • the circle of artists around Alfred Stieglitz, the photographer, gallery owner and her future husband, and his early influence of her career through exhibiting her work at his gallery. Stieglitz was always interested in photography as an art form and produced a photoraphic portrait of O'Keeffe over the years.
  • O'Keeffe became particularly attracted to the photographic work of both Stieglitz - who was increasingly emphasising the abstract quality of nature - and Paul Strand (1890- 1970) which she first saw in 1917.
Influenced by trends in Cubist painting, Strand photographed familiar objects very close up....the resulting effect of magnification dissolved the realistic forms into an almost abstract composition of geometric organizations (O'Keeffe page 23).
  • Magnification was something she has been experimenting with. As she explored magnification, it enabled her art to become separate from the conventional notions of what still life art should look like.
"It is surprising to me how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or a tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colors put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting" Georgia O'Keeffe quote in 'O'Keeffe' page 28
  • a chapter devoted to flowers with some excellent colour plates of a few images of her flower paintings. She painted more than 200 flower paintings between 1918 and 1932.
In O'Keeffe's flower paintings....the entire canvas is usually filled by just one or two blooms. These are painted in extreme close-up, as a result of which the outer edges of the leave sand stems are often cut off.....The close-up angle permits a detailed examination of the individual structure of each bloom......O'Keeffe nade a number of these flowers the objects of a series of paintings, seeking to refine the motif in each fresh version. The series was a concept she pursued throughout her career and suggests a parralel with Japanese art, in which the same subject is treated again and again in new variations. from various angles and at different times of year. 'O'Keeffe pages 31-32)
  • two chapters focus on her life in the desert of New Mexico and her home, the landscapes and motifs associated with that place. What I was struck by is how often the geometric forms she finds most appealing (eg the triangle) are repeated in both landscapes and still lifes
  • late in life she began to travel widely and her art began to change - often reflecting the views she had seen from the aircraft in which she travelled
  • The book includes a very detailed timeline for her life and artistic career at the end.
I've included links below to the Taschen site and major Amazon sites but if you have access to a really good art book shop you should be able to find it there. What was rather irritating for me was that I'd already bought this given I was planning to do O'Keeffe and then managed to mislay it until nearly the end of O'Keeffe month - I need more bookshelves!

Looking forward - next month my focus is going to be on flower painting (after cacti and succulents proved to be a major distraction this month). I'll be highlighting a number of artists who paint flowers and I'll also be continuing to pick up on some of O'Keeffe's practices in this respect.....

...and finally, the last cacti is making an appearance tomorrow with the weekly round-up.



Rose Welty said...


The book I read about the end of Georgia's life mentioned that when she could no longer see she would have the nurse read to her from the Kandinisky book exclusively.

Wonderful roundup, again!

Making A Mark said...

Thanks Rose. Isn't it amazing that we can read it on the internet?

Casey Klahn said...

Very great Kandinsky link!

Making A Mark said...

It surely is - aren't e-books great?

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