Sunday, 2 October 2016

Georgia O'Keeffe

"I found I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn't say any other way... things I had no words for" Georgia O'Keeffe

I really enjoyed my visit to Georgia O'Keeffe at Tate Modern. I love her aesthetic and found the paintings really inspiring. Below are a selection of her works from the retrospective that I particularly enjoyed. O'Keeffe (1887-1986), seems to have a grudging respect from some art critics. Many find her work problematic as they regard it to be too graphic in style, her technique to be insufficiently painterly, the imagery, (particularly the flower paintings), trite, and lacking in seriousness, and others appear to think that she owes her status in the art world solely to her relationship with husband, photographer Alfred Stieglitz.

The Specials series of charcoal drawings above, are early works in which she started to find her own artistic voice, and were the first of her works to be publicly exhibited in Stieglitz's 291 gallery. The following series of works were from Room 2 of the exhibition which I perhaps enjoyed most in the exhibition. They are in part inspired by the work and ideas of Kandinsky and explore the links between music and art. I like that she blurred the boundaries between figuration and abstraction in these pieces and created works which are both contemplative and quite spiritual in nature.

The painting below - New York Night 1928-1929, was my favourite in room 4 of the exhibition dealing with her New York cityscapes. O'Keeffe and Stieglitz lived on the thirtieth floor of the Shelton Hotel building which gave them access to some wonderful vistas of New York and the East River. The paintings in this room are complemented beautifully by photographic studies of the city taken from their apartment by Stieglitz.

The two paintings above are works from a series in which O'Keeffe spent time at Lake George, upstate New York, Maine and Canada, again using landscape as subject matter and abstracting it. I really admire the sense of movement and drama contained within the forms in these paintings, and the colours work so well together.

I also really admire O'Keeffe's large flower paintings in which she crops and enlarges sections of the flower and makes these the focus for the viewer. They have recieved a variety of interpretations from feminists, and psychologists and of course many comparisons to genitalia - a resemblance which was refuted by O'Keefe. This exhibition also seems at pains to refute the accusations of sexualisation levelled at the flower paintings. I like the delicate pastel coloured harmonies in White Iris (1930), above and feel her painting style complements the smooth, waxy surface textures of the blooms.

These works from her move south west to New Mexico again divide critics who cite them as kitsch and repetitive, (charges which could equally be leveled at the work of countless other artists). O'Keeffe regarded this area as her spiritual home, and thought that the dry desert landscapes encapsulated the essence of the 'real' America. Much of the work from this period does seem dreamlike, and prompted comparisons with Surrealism. O'Keeffe embraced the Native American and Spanish colonial cultures which were prevalent in this area and produced works which I feel are of a reflective nature depicting the Penitente  crosses which are found throughout the landscape, and doll-like kachina figures which represent Native American spirit beings.

Even though O'Keeffe's brushwork and painting style leaves many critics cold, I really like the way that she handles colour. Her palette ranges from the fiery, intense colours to lovely pastel hues, used to shape areas of light and dark to give form and create harmonious works. O'Keeffe found her style very early on in her career and obviously didn't really alter this from the start to the very last works, which again, is something most other artists are guilty of. O'Keeffe was though, an innovator in the way that she saw and depicted subjects in her paintings. She had an expert eye for cropping and composition, presenting subjects in ways that they had never been seen before in the history of art. This could possibly have been due to her close working association with husband/photographer Stieglitz, and friend Paul Strand. Whether one likes O'Keeffe's vast body of work or not, they are without doubt established icons of American painting, and images that are as strong as those of any of her contemporaries. This is a really enjoyable retrospective from a giant of 20th century American art and well worth a visit before it closes at the end of the month.

Georgia O'Keeffe
until 30th October 2016
Tate Modern