Color. Even before I leave my house I think of color: Pinks, Reds, Yellows, Blues. Oh Georgia, your use of color: profound.
Spring has almost sprung in Midtown, and the HIGH Museum of Art on Peachtree Street is showcasing the area’s inevitable bloominess by hosting a major show of works by the most celebrated American female painter, Georgia O’Keefe. The Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico co-organized the show, which runs through May 4th, as part of the Women in Art Series presented by Turner.
First wall, O’Keefe is quoted: “Women don’t make good painters they said. I just painted, that was all.” Unhappy to be defined solely by her femininity in a male dominated profession, her focus was on the work itself and the individual expression in the acts of their creation.
Photographer Alfred Stieglitz did much to ensure that photography was included in the categorizations that the public calls fine art. A prolific photographer and art dealer, he owned the Little Gallery on 5th Avenue in NYC. From its 1905 opening forward, Stieglitz championed European and American modernist artists. Visionary and unique for his time, Stieglitz began to show and promote a number of female artists, believing a woman’s essential femininity was exposed in the creative process.
Stieglitz called early protégé, Katherine Nash Rhoades, the “woman child” for what he saw as her beautiful childlike simplicity in painting. O’Keefe he later cast as the “Great Child.” She in fact studied the children’s way of making paintings. Is something not lost in a natural artist, as life and school and time begin to “teach” them? O’Keefe encouraged the notions of herself as a childlike visionary while rejecting assertions based on sexuality, although vaginal shapes do clearly appear in many of her flower paintings.
Stieglitz and O’Keefe blossomed from business interest to romance to marriage, in 1924. She is the subject of much of his photography; a full room of her as muse is off to the side of the main exhibit space. His champion-artist appears here as sexual and free, a gypsy in the prime of her life expression.
Flowers and Landscapes are O’Keefe’s major subjects. First came flowers, and a complete floral room easily highlights the exhibit. In the center of the room, in your garden, you notice that some are brighter than life, some bright as life.
Stieglitz died in 1942; O’Keefe lived until 1986 and the famous southwestern landscapes became a primary subject after his death and are thus not displayed in this show. Finally, perhaps foreshadowing her later landscape work, we see the piece: “Red, Yellow and Black Streak.” Here color has transcended form in a landscape from Georgia’s beautiful mind, which birthed an explosion of strata colored red, yellow, black and pink. Her magical vision for color most evident where red becomes pink, dark becomes light.