Georgia O’Keefe – Mother of American Modernism

Day 192 of Colourisation Project – November 15

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Universally acknowledged as the Mother of American Modernism, Georgia O’Keeffe, born this day, November 15 in 1887, was one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. Best known for her distinctive flower canvases and unusual architectural and landscape formations of northern New Mexico, she was devoted to creating imagery that expressed what she called “the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.”

Georgia O'Keeffe

Photographer: Alfred Stieglitz – Georgia O’Keeffe 1918 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

If O’Keeffe hadn’t become famous in her own right as an artist, she would still have become famous as the muse of Alfred Stieglitz, whose large body of photographic portraits made her face an instantly recognisable one.

O’Keeffe largely ignored shifting art trends staying true to her own vision, which was based on exploring the essential, abstract forms in nature. Her abstract imagery and large-scale macro studies of flowers throughout the 1910s and 1920s are among the most innovative works of American artists of her time.  Though her work is distinctive in style and thus easily recognizable, O’Keeffe never signed her paintings. She didn’t think she needed to. She believed people would be able to identify her work because of her subject matter and the way in which she painted it.

After attending the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, O’Keeffe arrived in New york in 1907 at a time when avant-garde artists were beginning to flourish. By 1916 she came to the attention of photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, America’s foremost advocate and promoter of modern art.  Immediately impressed, he exhibited her drawings at his prestigious 291 gallery, where the works of many avant-garde European and American artists and photographers were first introduced to the American public.

Stieglitz vigorously promoted her art and so began one of the most prodigious and well-known collaborations of the modernist era.  For the next twenty years they lived and worked together, marrying in 1924.  For O’Keeffe this meant twenty-two solo exhibitions and numerous group installations. O’Keeffe was exhibiting new work every year at the gallery until Stieglitz’s death in 1946.

At the same time, Stieglitz produced an incredible body of portraits of O’Keeffe, photographing her obsessively between 1918 and 1925 in what proved to be his most prolific period. He produced more than 350 mounted prints of O’Keeffe that portrayed her many moods and beauty; close-up studies of parts of her body, especially her hands. They remain one of the most dynamic and intimate records of a single individual in the history of art.

In 1929 O’Keeffe took a vacation to Taos, New Mexico, which altered the course of her life and had a profound influence on her art.  It was New Mexico’s majestic landscape, with its unusual geological formations, vivid colors and exotic vegetation, that anchored her there for more than four decades.

In 1946 The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in Manhattan held the first retrospective for a woman artist. Whilst O’Keeffe enjoyed her many accolades she did not appreciate it when people referred to her as a ‘woman artist.’ Being a woman shouldn’t matter to her art. She wanted to be thought of only as ‘an artist’.

Here she is in this fascinating little video clip from 1977, at the age of 90, talking about her art and work.

O’Keeffe is the recipient of both the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to American citizens, and the National Medal of Arts.

In 1984 she moved to Santa Fe, where she died on March 6, 1986, at the age of 98 and her ashes were scattered to the wind at the top of Pedernal Mountain, in northern New Mexico.

Her rich body of work serves as a legacy which continues to influence generations of artists. In 1997 the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico was established and is the largest single repository of O’Keeffe’s work in the world. The Museum houses over 3,000 works comprising paintings, drawings, and sculptures that date from 1901 to 1984. Georgia O’Keeffe’s work also forms a prominent part of major national and international museums.

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“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

 

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