Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.
An impromptu stroll along the South Bank and a very nearly expired National Art Pass led me to the Tate Modern to check out the newly opened Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition. Other than a high school English teacher who was a fan of her flowers and a Duke Special song I once heard at a gig, I knew relatively little about the artist’s work.
Marking the hundredth anniversary of her first exhibition in Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘291’ gallery Tate charts O’Keeffe’s life’s work- and the people and places that inspired it – from her early obsession with drawing exclusively in black and white until it became unavoidable to work without colour, to her love of cityscapes and, later, the New Mexico desert which captured her heart.
I was fascinated to learn about the artist whose work inspired legions of admirers and, in the case of her flowers, became the subject of numerous feminist critiques. (This is something which is said to have haunted her career, regardless of the measures she took to distance herself from said theories.)
Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small – We haven’t time – and to see takes time… So I said to myself – I’ll paint what I see – what the flower is to me, but I’ll paint it big and they’ll be surprised into taking time to look at it – I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers…Well, I made you take time to look…and when you took time…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.
As I wandered round the exhibition, mesmerised by O’Keeffe’s nuanced use of light and shade and her textured blends of colours that transported me to warmer climes I was most captivated by her character and the progressive nature of her relationship with Stieglitz.
Deeply invested in and supportive of one another’s creative pursuits the couple appeared to live and breathe the kind of partnership romantic dreams are made of. She was model and muse in many of his photographic works while she mirrored this admiration in her cloud paintings to him. Even I felt my soul soften upon reading a dedication he wrote to his wife in his book America and Alfred Stieglitz: A Collective Portrait which read as follows:
For Georgia, without whose being I would not be who I am. – Alfred, Nov 30/34
He adds, Nor would the Place exist nor very many of my best photographs.
Georgia O’Keeffe at London’s Tate Modern runs until 30th October 2016. Tickets are available for purchase here. Don’t forget you can snap up your ticket for half price with a National Art Pass and Tate Members go free. And if you’d like to listen to that Duke Special song I was telling you about you can do so here.
Until next time,