Georgia O’Keeffe (November 15, 1887 – March 6, 1986) was an American artist.
Born near Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, Georgia O’Keeffe first came to the attention of the New York art community in 1916, several decades after women had gained access to art training in America’s colleges and universities, and before any of its women artists were well known or highly celebrated.
Within a decade, she had distinguished herself as one of America’s most important modern artists, a position she maintained throughout her life.
As a result, Georgia O’Keeffe not only carved out a significant place for women painters in an area of the American art community that had been exclusive to and is still dominated by men, but also she had become one of America’s most celebrated cultural icons well before her death at age 98 in 1986.
In 1923, O’Keeffe began painting flowers and leaves, creating some of her best-known work.
Oriental Poppies and related flower paintings have been seen by some scholars as her response to such modern photographers as Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, who “zoomed in” on and closely cropped their subject in an attempt to discover its core essence.
Georgia O’Keeffe emulates this technique in her compositions.
By creating an over-sized close-up of the poppies and removing them from any discernible context, she abstracts the organic forms into black and red shapes.
By the mid-1920s, Georgia O’Keeffe was recognized as one of the most significant American artists of the time and her art begun to command high prices.
In one of O’Keeffe’s first large- scale renderings of flower, Petunia No.2.,which represents the beginning of her exploration of a theme that would mark her career, she magnifies the flower’s form to emphasize its shape and color.
Her flowers images often received interpretation that O’Keeffe disagreed with, particularly from feminist critics who saw her paintings as veiled illusion to female genitalia.
For Georgia O’Keeffe, there was no hidden symbolism, just the essence of the flower.
In addition, the anatomy of the petunia is incredibly detailed, and O’Keeffe may have been emphasizing the androgyny of the reproductive parts in order to counter the idea that her subject matter was connected to her gender.
Around 1929, O’Keeffe fascination with the landscape of New Mexico began, and she became enamored with New Mexico’s landscape of barren land, vistas and local Navajo culture; works produced from this landscape captured the beauty of the desert, its vast skies, distinctive architectural forms, and bones which she collected in the desert.
O’Keeffe’s eventual purchase of two properties in New Mexico further connected her to the land.
Through the precise rendering of the weathered skull’s surface and sharp edges in Cow’s Skull: Red, White and Blue, from 1931, she captures the essential nature of the skull while also referencing the transience of life.
Isolated on canvas, divorced from its desert context, O’Keeffe uses the cow’s skull and the red, white and blue background to represent both naturalism and nationalism, or the relationship between the American landscape and national identity.
Moreover, the subject could allude to the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, thereby making an environmental and economic statement; what is clear that O’Keeffe created a memento mori that elevates this relic of the New Mexico desert to the status of an American icon.
In her later years, O’Keeffe suffered from macular degeneration and began to lose her eyesight. As a result of her failing vision, she painted her last unassisted oil painting in 1972; her urge to create did not falter.
With the help of assistants, she continued to make art and she wrote the bestselling book Georgia O’Keeffe (1976).
Her last paintings consist of simple abstract lines and shapes and hearken back to her early charcoal drawings.
Georgia O’Keeffe died on March, 6, 1986, in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and her ashes were scattered at Cerro Pedernal, which is depicted in several of her paintings.