Who Inspires Me? (Georgia O'Keeffe Edition)
Georgia O’Keeffe is an artist who has inspired and influenced me from a young age.
My mom is who first introduced me to O'Keeffe's art. She had grown up in New Mexico and Texas and was familiar with O’Keeffe’s work because of how prevalent it is in the area. We lived in Texas when I was in elementary school and often drove over to New Mexico for family vacations. That is when I first saw O’Keeffe’s work in person in museums we stopped at while driving through the mountains and desert. The first art prints I ever owned were of Georgia O'Keeffe's paintings.
O’Keeffe is probably the most well-known woman artist in America, for sure in the top five. (Although there are a lot more amazing women artists than just five!) She fell in love with the New Mexican desert and spent most of her time as an artist living and working in Abiquiu, NM. Her paintings include landscapes, still life, flowers, and abstract work.
I LOVED flowers growing up and would often draw and paint them. O’Keeffe painted flowers really big, so they took up the whole canvas consuming your entire field of vision. By doing so she draws you into the color, shape, and folds of the flower. In high school, I did my own flower paintings following her example.
Georgia O’Keeffe described her work with flowers saying: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so, they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.” (Artnet News)
Ways of Seeing
In my 20s, I traveled back to New Mexico and visited the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum and the area where she worked. Every artist has a different way of seeing. Getting to see the land itself and then reflect on her interpretation of the place in paint was helpful to me as a budding artist. I tried to see with her eyes, but then also see the land with my own eyes and imagine how I would paint it. That was the spark that later led to me developing my own style of painting landscapes.
I am still developing that style today every time I paint. I take heart in the process of being an artist when I look at O’Keeffe’s legacy of work. Great artist’s change and develop over time, over hundreds of paintings. They change as they respond to different environments and different stages in life. O’Keeffe has connecting threads throughout her work, and themes she also revisits time and again. But there is also variety and exploration in her work. Flowers and landscapes, yes – but also cityscapes, cloud paintings, surreal floating bones, and completely abstract works of color. It is good for artists to change direction and try something new.
I like to think Georgia and I have a lot in common. Both women artists in America who love the outdoors, the western desert, landscape, flowers, bones, shapes, colors, and the company of big fluffy dogs. My sister and I joked the last time we were in New Mexico that the spirit of Georgia was there when we got up at dawn to photograph the jimson weed in bloom. I had grown up seeing Georgia’s paintings of the plant but until then had never seen a real one. All the sudden, seeing them at dawn, up close, the colors of her paintings made sense; the flower is so much more than white in the morning light. In that magical moment I felt close to her.
One of my favorite stories from O’Keeffe’s life is when she was asked by Dole, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, to create two paintings for future ad campaigns. They flew her out to the islands, and she painted several Hawaiian-inspired works, submitting two of them to the company. Dole was not impressed however, as neither one included a pineapple. In desperation, they mailed her a pineapple plant in only 36hrs, hoping she would paint it! (Pretty impressive in 1940 pre-Amazon shipping.)(Artsy Article)
In all fairness, her contract with Dole did not specific what she was to paint. She chose to paint what she saw and what she wanted to highlight from her trip – which, apparently, did not include the pineapple. She did finally do a painting of a pineapple bud. It’s still not what you expect when you think of Dole, but technically, it was a pineapple.
A Different Way
I love how she saw places and plants uniquely. All her work, though familiar to many now, was unexpected at the time. A different way of seeing the world.
That is why she inspires me. I want to bring my own unique way of seeing the world to the world through my art. That is what Georgia O’Keeffe did, and I am thankful for her example and her art.