Architecture, Katsinam and the Land
When I got to New Mexico that was mine. As soon as I saw it that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before but it fitted to me exactly. It’s something that’s in the air, it’s just different, the sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different. I shouldn’t say too much about this because other people might get interested and I don’t want them interested. ~Georgia O’Keeffe
Georgia O’Keeffe, among the great American artist of the 20th century, was drawn to the New Mexico landscape and culture in a way many people could only imagine. She was captivated by the cultures and colorful landscapes of New Mexico, which served as inspiration for some of her most interesting Western works.
The traveling exhibition, Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam and the Land, will be at the Denver Art Museum from Feb. 10, through April 28, 2013, and brings to light O’Keeffe’s interest in northern New Mexico. The exhibition includes 53 works, ranging from Hopi katsina tithu to Hispanic and Native American architecture. Visitors will have the chance to experience this part of the country—its culture, people and landscapes—through the eyes of the artist.
From 1931 to 1945, Georgia O'Keeffe created numerous drawings, watercolors and paintings of katsina tithu, described as carved and painted representations of Hopi spirits. This new exhibit at the Denver Art Museum describes O’Keeffe’s artwork showing as an opportunity to experience seldom-exhibited paintings that remain generally unknown to the public. The exhibit includes 15 rarely seen O’Keeffe pictures of nine different Hopi katsina tithu, along with examples of these types of figures or photographs of them. The O’Keeffe exhibition also includes examples of her paintings of New Mexico’s Hispanic and Native American architecture, cultural objects and New Mexico landscapes, as well as additional works from American Indian artists who also draw upon katsina tithu and the New Mexico landscape for artistic inspiration. “Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico brings to light a relatively unknown component of O’Keeffe’s art and thinking—her awareness of, keen sensitivity toward and deep respect for the diverse and distinctive cultures of Northern New Mexico,” says the Denver Art Museum.
Georgia O'Keeffe was born on November 15, 1887, the second of seven children, and she grew up on a farm in Sun Prairie, Wis. As a child she received art lessons at home, where her talents were noticed by many. And by the time she graduated from high school in 1905, she had determined to become an artist.
O'Keeffe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago (1905–1906) and at the Art Students League in New York (1907–1908), where she was quick to master the principles of the approach to art-making that then formed the basis of the curriculum—imitative realism. In 1908, she won the League's William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Untitled (Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot). Shortly thereafter, however, O'Keeffe quit making art, saying later that she had known then that she could never achieve distinction working within this tradition.
In 1912, her interest in art was rekindled when she took a summer course for art teachers at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville, taught by Alon Bement of Teachers College at Columbia University. Bement introduced O’Keeffe to the ideas of his colleague Arthur Wesley Dow.
Dow, an artist and art educator at Teachers College, believed that the goal of art was “the expression of the artist’s personal ideas and feelings and that such subject matter was best realized through harmonious arrangements of line, color and notan (the Japanese system of lights and darks).” Dow’s perspectives offered O’Keeffe an alternative to imitative realism, and she began experimenting with them while she was teaching art in the Amarillo, Texas, public schools or working summers as Bement’s assistant.
By the fall of 1915, while teaching art at Columbia College in South Carolina, she decided to put Dow’s theories to the test. In an attempt to discover her own personal language, she began a series of abstract charcoal drawings that are now recognized as “among the most innovative in all of American art of the period.” She mailed some of these drawings to a former Columbia classmate, who showed them to the internationally known photographer and art impresario, Alfred Stieglitz, in 1916.
Stieglitz exhibited 10 of her charcoal abstractions at his famous avant-garde gallery, 291, in New York City. A year later, he supported a one-person exhibition at 291 of O’Keeffe’s work. In the spring of 1918 he offered O’Keeffe financial support to paint for a year in New York. Married in 1924, she and Stieglitz lived and worked together in New York City during the winter and spring and at the Stieglitz family estate at Lake George, New York, during the summer and fall. But in 1929, O’Keeffe began to spend the first of many summers painting in New Mexico.
As early as the mid-1920s, when O’Keeffe first began painting New York skyscrapers as well as large-scale close-up depictions of flowers—which are among her best-known pictures—she had become one of America’s most important and successful artists, displaying her art in the Anderson Galleries, the Intimate Gallery and An American Place.
In 1949, three years after Stieglitz’s death, O’Keeffe moved from New York to her beloved New Mexico, “whose stunning vistas and stark landscape configurations had inspired her work since 1929.” Many of the pictures she painted in New Mexico have become as well known as the works she had completed earlier in New York. She captured the essence of the natural beauty of the “Northern New Mexico desert, its vast skies, richly colored landscape configurations and unusual architectural forms.” O’Keeffe lived and painted in the area until 1984, when failing eyesight forced her into retirement. She died in her beloved New Mexico in 1986 at the age of 98.
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum organized Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico: Architecture, Katsinam and the Land. Exhibit dates and locations also include the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, May 17 through Sept. 8, 2013, and the Heard Museum, Sept. 27, 2013 through Jan. 12, 2014.