19 October 2016

O'Keeffe

In photographs she rarely smiles
On  October 8th, I walked through bustling Borough Market then along the south bank of The Thames, passing The Globe Theatre to reach Tate Modern. Once it was Bankside Power Station but the generators within that vast facility ceased their humming in 1981. Thank heavens the powers-that-be behind The Tate Gallery had the vision to realise that Bankside could one day become Britain's premier modern art museum.

There are permanent exhibitions there and if you have ever been sceptical about modern art, Tate Modern will open your eyes. That doesn't mean you will appreciate all artefacts that fall into the extremely broad  and convenient category known as "modern art" but certain prejudices and presumptions will fall away. You will begin to see and perhaps to connect.
Pelvic Series
All summer, Tate Modern has hosted a temporary exhibition of the work of Georgia O'Keeffe and I was keen to see it. Georgia O'Keeffe was born into a Wisconsin dairy-farming family in 1887. She died in Santa Fe, New Mexico ninety nine years later. In between she had a passionate, all-consuming love affair with art as she strove to express wonderment and beauty, seeking a world that she sometimes referred to as "The Far Away".

Most of her youth was spent in New York. There she grew as an artist, finding her "voice". She painted evocative pictures of Manhattan's canyons and played with light and shade, always experimenting, forging relationships with other artists, trying to take the next step.

By 1929, when she was in her forties, she found the place where she really belonged - the countryside of New Mexico. It had a harsh and simple beauty with echoes of Native American culture. The mountains changed with the sun's migration and in the desert lands there were more bones than flowers. They lay there bleached white so she gathered them and brought them home to her simple ranch house.
Black Mesa Landscape
She drew with pencil and charcoal. She studied and she painted several subjects over and over again - such as "the white place", "the black place", "the ghost ranch", "the road" and pelvic bones with a dazzling blue sky seen through the holes. Her art was both furious and patient for she was thrilled by the world she witnessed and she never lost her childlike wonder.

At Tate Modern I saw her journey unfolding in thirteen gallery rooms. How I would have loved to be alone there, absorbing that story without distraction but there were other visitors - lots of them from all corners of this planet. I was probably getting in their way too. This wasn't like the stillness and the solitude that Georgia O'Keeffe knew as she carried her easel to secret places in the New Mexico hills.

But it was a remarkable exhibition. Testament not just to a life lived in Art but to our world and to the fundamental delights we might all find within it as we take our own journeys to "The Far Away".
"Ranchos Church New Mexico" (1930 or 31)
I saw her image on some bookcases in the gift shop
with St Paul's Cathedral visible through the window
- on the other side of The River Thames
From the Faraway Nearby (1937)
New York "East River" (1928)

24 comments:

  1. Wasn't it a great show? I loved it. Although her art matured in New York, I think of her as a fundamentally western painter -- she began painting in Texas (as I recall) and, as you said, found her true spiritual home in New Mexico. All that space and the mountains and the colors! Really spectacular, and yet peaceful and earthy too. I love her fascination with bones.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a great show Steve and I should have given Texas a word or two.

      Delete
  2. Oh, and I love your photo of her facing St. Paul's. Great juxtaposition!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I took another one which may be better.

      Delete
  3. I have always loved the work of O'Keeffe....since my teens. The vibrant colors and the painstaking color differences and detail. The flower series that make not-to-subtle references to the female body. As an adult, I made the first of many trips to Santa Fe and the rest of New Mexico. It was then I understood her love of that place....and, indeed, why so many artists live and work there even today. There IS something unique in the air and breeze. The colors of the sky and streams and earth and the hills and, yes, even the structures seem more pure and without any distortion of pollution or even dust. Then, I began to understand her human connection to that land.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for these personal reflections Mama Bear. Of course I kind of knew that she would be an artist with whom you could easily identify.

      Delete
  4. Anyone who is scathing about art in general and Tate Modern in particular YPshould read this post - I salute you for your review.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When you salute me I hope you are wearing your full military uniform Major Weaver.

      Delete
  5. I saw her exhibition in Nashville, truly an artist unto her self.
    Her love of the New Mexico landscape, echoed in her work.
    ~Jo

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. But did you enjoy/appreciate her work Jo?

      Delete
  6. Eyes will never be opened if we don't view modern art.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Some modern art is pure dross but mertitorious modern art has the power to move us enormously.

      Delete
  7. I have just returned to California from spending two weeks visiting family in Abiquiu, New Mexico, where O'Keefe lived and worked. The landscape is beautiful and ever-changing, and she captured it well. It's good to know her work is recognized.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How lovely to have been there...to witness the landscape that Georgia O'Keeffe loved.

      Delete
  8. O'Keeffe's works are beautiful...and that doesn't seem enough to describe them....

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are right. Not just beautiful but revelatory, inspirational, fleeting and everlasting.

      Delete
  9. One of the highlights of putting a big hole in my retirement payout was a visit to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. Simply wonderful.

    Alphie

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Who needs to see savings figures when you can see Art instead?

      Delete
  10. Almost 10 years ago, during the last time I've been to London, my sister and I visited Tate Modern. I was very much impressed and can only agree with what you write about how it can change someone's view of modern art.

    O'Keeffe's work looks certainly unique and intriguing. I am amazed it was allowed to take photos; thank you for sharing them with us! Love the one with her "looking out" at St. Paul's.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was a "no photography" notice but hardly any staff around to enforce this ruling...and you know how naughty I can be.

      Delete
  11. Problems with internet yesterday, so I'm a day late posting my comments.
    I love O'Keefe's work and her Black Mesa Landscapes are amongst my favourites. She approached all her work from such an individual viewpoint.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In her own way, I believe she was a genius, a genius who proved that genius is one per cent inspiration and ninety nine per cent perspiration.

      Delete
  12. Like most art galleries Tate Modern is home to some art that I could look at for time eternal and some to which I'm indifferent and some which I positively loathe. Paula O'Keefe's Black Messa Landscape reminds me of New Zealand so I love it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I didn't realise that Georgia O'Keeffe had a sister called Paula but I agree that that particular picture does have echoes of New Zealand.

      Delete

Mr Pudding welcomes all genuine comments - even those with which he disagrees. However, puerile or abusive comments from anonymous contributors will continue to be given the short shrift they deserve. Any spam comments that get through Google/Blogger defences will also be quickly deleted.