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A Portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe

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A Portrait of Georgia O’Keeffe
Kiki Carter Hebert
AIU – Houston

Abstract
This paper will examine the life, legacy, and works of the famous painter Georgia O’Keeffe a noted artist who is arguably best known for her abstract works. It will explore the various media and techniques she used in three specific pieces. From her own words and the critiques of others, including an inexperienced person such as myself, this essay will expound upon Ms. O’Keeffe’s intentions and resolutions to the three pieces of Ms. O’Keeffe’s artwork which are outlined in this paper; Blue No. 2, Drawing XIII, and Series I White & Blue Flower Shapes.

The American artist Georgia Totto O’Keeffe was born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin on November 15, 1887 (I was born on her 86th birthday, November 15, 1973). Born under the astrological sign of Scorpio, it is understandable that some of her work seemed sensual as Scorpios are said to be very sexual beings. In her own words, Georgia O’Keeffe explained her self perception as an abstract artist. “It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good 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. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.” Georgia O’Keeffe, 1976. Maybe her love for painting flowers, trees and nature’s landscape came from her childhood memories of growing up near the countryside, being raised on a farm as a child, but she also gained recognition for her skyscrapers. She is said to be the originator of female iconography. Iconography is the symbolic meaning of signs, subjects, and images.
In her introductory catalogue essay entitled "Georgia O'Keeffe: Making the Unknown - Known," Barbara Haskell provides the following commentary: "In contrast to modernists whose fractured forms and impasto brushstrokes recorded a restless, fragmented world, O'Keeffe's smooth surfaces and gently pulsing organic forms suggested the soothing movements of the natural world. Rather than depicting the outward, tangible forms of nature, she depicted the experience of being in nature, enveloped by an infinity, which was beyond rational comprehension. The experience she recorded was of the Sublime, a term the British philosopher Edmund Burke had defined in 1757 as the feeling of being so overwhelmed by an all-encompassing wonder and awe that awareness of everything else is suspended. But whereas Burke had claimed terror as a prerequisite for sublimity, O'Keeffe's sprang from her rapturous experience of nature's inexplicability and immensity. To communicate this feeling, she closely cropped her motifs so that they seemed to extend beyond their frames as if without measurable boundaries. The resulting images were not symbols or metaphors, but records of her empathy with nature's fluid rhythms."
The media used in Georgia’s 1915 Drawing XIII is charcoal on paper. It is twenty-four and three eighth inches by eighteen and one half inches. With this piece it is said the she asserted her independence form her traditional art training. It was done by using large sheets of paper with bold strokes of charcoal. The critique of this piece suggests it depicts a river, a flame, foliage trees, a rolling hillside, and/or mountain peaks or lightening. To me, the dense or dark bulbs suggest masculinity and the curved strokes suggest femininity. Alfred Stieglitz showed this and other O’Keeffe charcoal drawings in his gallery. Eventually, he began to photograph Georgia extensively and sensuously. Ultimately, he also became her husband in 1924.
O’Keeffe’s 1916 Blue No. 2 is a watercolor on paper painting that is twenty-seven and seven eighth inches by twenty-two and one quarter inches. The colors used in the piece are vibrant; the various shades of blue and the touch of green. One half of my brain sees an embryo when looking at this piece. The other half of my brain sees an alien from the blockbuster Sigourney Weaver Movie “Alien” when studying this piece.
The 1919 Series I White & Blue Flower Shapes, which was done in oil on board, is nineteen and seven eighth inches by fifteen and three quarter inches. There is no way around it for me and for lack of better words; this piece immediately reminds me of a woman’s defining parts as seen from a gynecologist’s view upon examination. It could be the outside of the female anatomy or it could be the inside of the female womb. This analogy of mine leads back to some other art critics’ opinions that Georgia O’Keeffe was a sensual painter. She herself stated she wanted to show the inside of the flower. She wanted to exaggerate the size of the flower in her works so that it could really be appreciated. Stieglitz said that she presented the sexual anatomy of the flower in sharp focus. O’Keeffe said of the critics views of her flowers as expressions of her sexuality: “Well – I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower – and I don’t.”

References
Patrick Frank, Prebles’ Artforms, 10th Edition, Chapter 2

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