September 20, 2018

Georgia O’Keeffe

Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico, Out Back of Marie's II, 1930, Oil on canvas mounted on board. Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, Gift of the Burnett Foundation.

Georgia O’Keeffe

Tate Modern

6th July – 30th Oct 2016

Tate Modern’s current exhibition explores Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) during her most productive years (1910’s – 60’s) with the ‘Aims to dispel the cliché’s that persist around O’Keeffe’s painting’ (Tate).

We see periods of this pioneer’s work from stripped back charcoal on paper during her early years (1916 – 17) to oil paintings which are inspired by sensory stimulation.  Her awareness of synaesthesia and chromothesia informed her work.  We’re also shown her relationship with Alfred Stieglitz and surrounding influential cultural figures.  His photographs of both of her and the people influencing them are on display working both as forms of art and as a window into their personal lives.

Displayed is a mixture of abstract and representational work.  O’Keeffe’s abstract images have a natural quality, as if the item is being viewed under a microscope or up close.  The representational images such as Autumn Leaves, Lake Georgia, NY, 1924 and Farmhouse Window and Door, 1929 have an essence of abstraction in their reduction of form.  The latter reduced to rectangles and a minimal palate of turquoise and white while the former is a close up jumble of autumn leaves (as the title suggests).  Oak Leaves, Pink and Grey, 1929 can alternatively be seen as a form of abstraction.

O’Keefe’s work is like a journal.  Each place she visits seems to inhabit her and inspire her to produce the essence of that environment in an overtly O’Keefe style.  She embraces the environment and her paintings on New Mexico have a passion and awe behind them.  Natural and man-made structures are lovingly depicted in a vibrant, sun evoking, spectrum of warm colours.  Like the majority of her work, crevices and folds are meticulously crafted.

She does what many cannot – capture the essence of what she sees in her own style.  We see what she sees but both through her eyes and our own.  The strange thing was that I wrote this down as I wandered around then I came to room 9 Ghost Ranch which houses work by O’Keeffe between the 1930s and 40s in New Mexico where she deepened her exploration.  A quote from her is on the wall ‘I wish you could see what I see out of the windows – the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north ( . . . ) It is a very beautiful world.’ (O’Keefe. Tate).

For more information visit www.tate.org.uk

By Helen Shewry

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