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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Georgia O'Keeffe

When I hear the words, Georgia O'Keeffe, I think of flowers.  Big, voluminous, wafty flowers. I try not to think of the other theme (that starts with the letter 'v' and rhymes with 'angina' ) that is associated with her work but I'm afraid I do.

'Jimson Weed/White Flower No 1' (1932)

I have nothing against flowers and bones and the arid New Mexico landscape which features so heavily in Ms O'Keeffe's work. But the real reason I am drawn to her art is  the force of personality which was required to make it. It is tough now to make it as a creative artist and I imagine that during the early 1900s it was tougher still for a woman to stake her claim as an artist and make a living from it.

I am drawn to O'Keeffe's work because I am intrigued by her life.

Therefore when a friend asked me if I would like to attend the Georgia O'Keeffe retrospective at the Tate Modern, I was game. I had never seen an O'Keeffe painting in real life and was curious to learn more about her.

On the day of our excursion, we were four school mums who had met courtesy of our kids attending the same school. Our other commonality was a shared interest in the creative arts. Dropping our kinder off, we felt free and easy as we travelled to the Tate in our sandals and summer clothing. It was the hottest London day so far of the year; a fitting atmosphere through which to view paintings of bones bleached white by the sun and the blues and reds of the desert. One of our party was knowledgeable in art history and gave us a background brief on how the relationship between O'Keeffe and Alfred Steglitz  had helped O'Keeffe as an artist.

'From the Faraway, Nearby'

The retrospective once we arrived was extensive and thorough. It guided us through sequential phases of O'Keeffe's life as an artist and the influences in each period.  Her flowers were blousy and beautiful; vivid in the way I had imagined them to be but it was her work at Lake George which resonated most with me. The cool, calm and serene images were a balm to my senses on a hot London day. Below was my favourite painting from the exhibition:

'Lake George' (1922)

Paintings not withstanding, I was equally drawn to photos of O'Keefe displayed throughout. Even as a young woman, her face gave nothing and everything away at the same time. It had a proper, 'don't fuck me with me look about it.'  Most of all, I liked the photos of O'Keefe as an older woman going about her life in New Mexico. Her face looks worn in and etched, as if the artist herself had chosen the patchwork of lines which decorated it.


Afterwards as we walked back out into the sunshine and made our way to lunch, O'Keefe's face was still in the forefront of my mind.

I wonder what Georgia O'Keefe would have looked like as a four year old?  I mused aloud.

She would have looked like an old lady, came the reply. She was born looking like an old lady.

It's true that some faces take a lifetime to grow into. Georgia O'Keefe had ninety-eight years to do so and in that time, she gave us her work and her life.

It's an inspiration to all of us with old faces.

Georgia O'Keeffe at the Tate ModernJuly 6 - October 30, 2016
Bankside, London, SE1 9TG

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