By Mary Moore, Graphic Designer
The “Georgia O’Keeffe: Abstractions” exhibition is the natural world in its most basic elements. In more than 130 paintings and drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, O’Keeffe is celebrated for her distortions of landscapes, flowers, bones and realistic objects that focus on her experience with people and places.
While O’Keeffe’s exhibition may be part of the natural world vs. humanity struggle seen so much around New York’s art galleries, she is a major influence for many contemporary artists. In 1915, no one was truly doing abstract work.
“She avoided the fragmented forms that were hallmarks in American and European modernism. Her goal was to evoke feelings in the natural world,” Barbara Haskell, curator, said. “She talked about the wild and the emptiness and silence of it. She never adopted the cubist form, but valued organic, rhythmic lines.”
In one of her first charcoal drawings of 1916, she played with tight and luxurious spiral forms.
“The spiral form is something that repeats throughout her work. It’s a subject that repretsents a world of nature and inexpressibility and the exhausting nature of the world around her,” Haskell said.
O’Keeffe used cropping techniques in many of her flower-series paintings. Because the frames were tightened, her subjects extend to immeasurable boundaries in the universe.
In “The Black Place,” referring to Navaho Country, New Mexico, she painted an aerial perspective of landscape, focusing her attention on a crack between two hills. Its “anthropomorphic quality” resembles earthy skin tones.
Cropping extenuates the curves and strikes seen so much in her work, but her choice in colors also reflected her feelings about nature.
“She uses a diversified palette of soft feathered colors to evoke animate breathing forms, [so the colors] appear to move laterally as well as in depth [to form an object],” according to Haskell. “This combination of abstraction and color suggests an equation between the rhythms of nature and [the rhythms] in the human body.”
Although O’Keeffe was criticized for interplay of sexuality and womanhood in her paintings, she used nature as inspiration to communicate the emotions and ideas she couldn’t put into words.
“It’s typical of O’Keeffe to point out that realism isn’t very real at all. She didn’t want to capture the surface image of things,” Haskell said. “She wanted to emphasize [landscapes and flowers] to get a ‘real’ meaning.”
At the Whitney, which is free on Friday evenings, O’Keeffe viewers will be released from postmodernist references, technological possibilities and materialism to only be challenged by nature and it’s abstract forms.