100 Seconds – Close-Up to Creation 4/25/2021

Georgia O’Keeffe’s Flowers

Some artists speak directly to your heart, not just through the subject matter, but also in color, form, light, and viewpoint, an entirety of invention that awakens a personal meaning and delight for a lifetime. Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) is one of those artists for me. A print of her work called “The Lawrence Tree” has been on my walls of my vagabond lodgings for over forty years, now on the wall of my true home.

She married the photographer/art dealer Alfred Stieglitz in 1924, although she had relationships with women, including Frida Kahlo. She struggled with depression; and in 1933, she was hospitalized following a nervous breakdown. She drifted away from the East Coast, resettling her life and art in New Mexico. On her own, she found inspiration in its stark, arid landscape, its reds, ochres, yellows, and blacks.

Over the course of her career, she painted somewhere around two hundred images of flowers, many of them like a close-cropped photo, large-scale depictions of the interiors of flowers, capturing the essence of their life force, the beauty of their sexual parts of stamens and ovaries. Many (largely male) art critics said her pictures referenced feminism and sexuality. Georgia scoffed at their opinion.

She learned from modernist photography, especially the work of Paul Strand, with her own pictorial vocabulary of undulating forms and soft, tonal gradations. She transformed her botanical subjects into compositions that move between abstraction and representation. A small, ordinary flower suggested the immensity of nature.

In details, O’Keeffe sought to jostle her viewers’ habitual ways of looking. In my own photography of garden flowers, I aim for a close-up view, the revelation of simplicity and majesty in details. The last 2 photos of a bearded iris and blue hydrangea.

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