I may not know much about art or artists, but I know that I'm crazy for Georgia O'Keeffe. Especially since my friend Elizabeth and I just returned from a two day mini-vacation in Toronto where we 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.
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 backroads 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 after Thursday, I'm 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 we 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 in 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
Elizabeth and I didn't spend all our time in Toronto immersed in high culture. We walked and walked. The weather was beautiful. We managed to squeeze in a little vintage shopping, exploring the stores around Kensington Market. We had dinner with an old friend one night. Good food, a glass or two of wine, and lots of laughter. You know, the usual.
Georgia O'Keeffe inspired iconic skyscraper image.
Oh... and we took a few selfies. This one made us chuckle. Especially when I pointed out that we were wearing the exact same outfits that we wore on our New York trip last fall. Hmmm. Let's reflect on that. Might this mean that we are boring and predictable? That maybe we don't have large enough wardrobes to ensure selfie variety? Or are we creating iconic Sue and Elizabeth images that reflect our artistic sensibilities and which are synonymous with our curated public persona? Ha. I know what I think, but I'm keeping it to myself.
Elizabeth and Sue in Nathan Phillips Square
So, I learned a lot at the O'Keeffe exhibit at the AGO this week. 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.
How about you folks? Are you familiar with O'Keeffe's work? Feel free to weigh in here. About O'Keeffe. About art. About selfies. Whatever.
Linking up with: Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine's Corner.