Abstractions of nature
Among women artists all over the world, Georgia O'Keeffe holds a sacred position. She could take a blooming flower, study its petals with botanical precision and create an abstract study that would create a petal perfect entity. My introduction to O Keeffe goes to the 1990's when I could see her works at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, and the Metropolitan Museum at New York. Her love for ethereal nature and stark landscapes became the singular quest of her subtle, yet deeply divinity driven works that showed her devotion to nature. To look at O'Keeffe's works is to understand the term rural refuge.
At the New York Botanical Garden is a historic culling of Georgia O'Keeffe: Visions of Hawai'i, running May 19–October 28. To look at her rendering of a Hibiscus is enough to understand that she would take a flower, isolate it as a subject and create a rendition in a richly nuanced palette of lush shades. The Hibiscus here stands with other petals but has an evocative echo in
the way it holds its own. The white and buttercup yellow hues of the flanking flowers are starkly contrasted by the modulated white background that is purposefully flattened, thrusting the primary subject of the hibiscus towards the apex of the study.
When she gives us a Heliconia with crab claws, the resulting image set against the cumulus clouds of the sea and pristine blue of the sea evokes in many ways the idea of clarity with its limited palette and composition. Art historians have said she was influenced by the medium of photography, the impact of the medium led her to create enlarged as well as cropped compositions.
Her study of the pineapple bud exemplifies lush Tropicana. She takes a simple humble composition of the fruit in its genesis and treats it in near luscious contrasts of a photographic palette in the way she creates its long verdant stalked leaves to exploit the pure, clean form of the fruit as it sits in its green yoked bed.
Her study of Waterfall, No. I, 'Īao Valley, Maui, 1939 is a landscape of rare intensity. Its sparse and untouched beauty is infused with a tensile energy and emotion. This is a study in the handling of abstraction in a landscape because she does not imitate the visual appearance of the world before her, but she uses lines, shapes, colours, and contrasts to convey deeper incandescent meanings. We see that O'Keeffe was deeply appreciative of the beauty and spiritual power of the natural world that lay before her eyes, she often turned to the surrounding landscapes, flowers, and trees for her subject matter. Hawai then was a paradisal panorama waiting to be translated in the imagination of her dulcet recesses. The show cements her legacy and reaffirms her place in the annals of history.
The waterfall is at once a study that has both vertical and horizontal perspectives, this work with the waterfall running like a silver. Silver is an expression of her exploratory thought process as she carved her own contours to define what it meant to be representational in an age of burgeoning abstraction in American Art.
The painting exemplifies the boldly colourful landscapes which have become a hallmark of O'Keeffe's career. She looked at a landscape with new eyes and understood what it meant to lace a landscape with light even as it brimmed the depths of verdant vignettes in time and space.
These works bring alive her words: "I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me – shapes and ideas so near to me – so natural to my way of being and thinking …I decided to start anew, to strip away what I had been taught."