Georgia on my Mind

Find an empty space and fill it with something beautiful” was the single guiding edict that Georgia O’Keeffe followed through a prolific career of painting and living. This simple, distilled statement made by her teacher Arthur Wesley Dow gave her the single inspiration and purpose she was seeking as an artist.

Georgia Exhibit 1

Surprised? O’Keeffe did fashion illustration early in her career to support herself while refining her painting skills.

Georgia Exhibit 16

O’Keeffe designed and sewed her own clothes, many by hand, adopting early her signature palette of black and white.

This begins the comprehensive and finely crafted exhibition, Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern at The Brooklyn Museum. Curated with acute detail and an eye toward exposing the artist’s very essence, the show is a revelation for bringing together painting, photography, clothing, correspondence and personal effects; elements which work in tandem to completely encapsulate this iconic figure in 20th century art. I walked away with a tremendous understanding that was far beyond a series of canvases.

The show is divided into three sections: the New York years, the New Mexico years and Celebrity.

The New York Years

Arriving in New York in 1916 to view an exhibition of her works at 291, she met Alfred Stieglitz who owned the gallery and set up the show. Immediately taken with her, Alfred set about wooing her to come to New York permanently. She continued to teach and further her studies at Teachers College, Columbia University but finally moved in 1918 upon his request and began her painting in earnest along with a romantic relationship, ultimately leading to marriage in 1924.

Georgia Exhibit 2

From the first show at 291: Blue #3, 1916, Watercolor on Paper.

Georgia Exhibit 3

Abstraction, 1916, White-Laquered Bronze—a delicate sculpture made after the death of her mother.

Stieglitz knew there was something unique about this enigmatic woman who painted abstractly in deep, rich color and set about documenting her prolifically in photographs, taking thousands of pictures of her over the course of their 22 year union. Alfred worked to hone and preserve the image she was creating for herself—austere black and white clothing, simple living, a passion for beauty in the world and a self-determination that was unshakeable. Never before had the life, work and image of an artist so cohesively melded to form an almost canonical figure.

Georgia Exhibit 4

Crafting an image. Alfred Stieglitz, 1920-22.

Stieglitz was also a tireless promoter of her paintings and was the origin of the Freudian notions put forth in her early works, which, even at the time, she vehemently opposed, telling everyone, including press, that her work was not subconscious, was not sexual in tone and was not what one might consider “womanly.” Still, she had a hard time escaping these pre-conceptions.

With the deterioration of her marriage and eventual death of her husband in 1946, O’Keeffe decided to move on as New York held nothing further for her. Having previously spent a few summers in the countryside around New Mexico, trekking the area and painting as much as possible, she decided to embark on a new life in the Southwest. She completed one final painting, an ode to Brooklyn Bridge, before departing.

Georgia Exhibit 5

Jack in the Pulpit No. 3, 1930, Oil on Canvas.



Georgia Exhibit 6

Manhattan, 1932, Oil on Canvas. Design for a mural at the Museum of Modern Art, NY.














Georgia Exhibit 7

Goodbye to New York: Brooklyn Bridge, 1949, Oil on Masonite.

The New Mexico Years

New Mexico was a dream for her and she found a property that she could not live without, the adobe in Abiquiu. This adobe had what she called a black door and was the sole reason for the purchase—she said she could not live without that door and painted many iterations of it.

Georgia Exhibit 8

Pelvis II, 1944, Oil on Canvas.

It was here that the sun baked reds, pinks, purples and blues inspired her anew, stating in correspondence to a friend “out here half your work is done for you.”

O’Keeffe thrived in her new environment and eagerly immersed herself in the western way of living, adopting denim in her wardrobe and wearing brighter colors which reflected her surroundings. She collected bones, skulls, rocks and other ephemera from the land and used them as models as well as décor. In addition she acquired an impressive array of high mid-century modern furnishings.

She eventually acquired property around her home which she turned into a garden for flowers and vegetables, saving her the 70 mile trips by car to Santa Fe for provisions.

Georgia Exhibit 9

Georgia O’Keeffe with Chair. Don Worth, 1958.

Georgia Exhibit 10

Adopting the Southwest: A collection of denim and cotton shirts—the gingham one at the far right was a hand-me-down gift from the art critic at The New Yorker magazine.

Through the years of living in New Mexico photographers and magazines became enthralled with this fiercely independent artist living out in seemingly no-man’s land and she was continuously photographed and featured in editorials for titles such as Architectural Digest, House Beautiful, Harper’s Bazaar and Life—many of which would come back over time to feature her again. With each subsequent article she further expressed her image and lifestyle which had germinated in the 1920’s.

Georgia Exhibit 11

Stump in Red Hills, 1940, Oil on canvas.


Georgia Exhibit 14

Georgia O’Keeffe, Silkscreen Ink on Canvas with Diamond Dust. Andy Warhol, 1980.

The final section focuses on O’Keeffe as a celebrity and iconic figure in the world of art and lifestyle. Andy Warhol memorialized her in a silkscreen in which he mixed diamond dust into the wet paint to give her a starry, glittery effect.

Bruce Webber photographed her twice for features and Calvin Klein used her property in a large advertorial for a 1980’s spring men’s collection, even sending her a sweater he designed for review.

What is most illuminating is a three minute video of an interview she gave about the house and property, a rare occasion she allowed herself to be on film. The film captures the directness of her personality and an authenticity that made her a true American figure.

Georgia Exhibit 12

Alexander Calder created this pin in 1938 using O’Keeffe’s last name initials. She famously wore it vertically.

In the last years of her life she suffered from macular degeneration and was no longer able to paint as she had. With the aid of an assistant she produced a series of works in watercolor—simple swaths of color which are beautiful in their simplicity and Asian in style.

Georgia Exhibit 13

One of many kimonos O’Keeffe acquired on visits to Asia.

Georgia Exhibit 15

The wise sage: the final formal portrait of O’Keeffe at 97. Bruce Webber, 1984.

Throughout her life, Georgia O’Keeffe never wavered from her primary beliefs and this exhibition not only celebrates this life but the woman as well, leading with the art and the lifestyle following. She simply knew her own mind and wielded the power of this knowledge.

Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern runs through July 23.

Feature Image: O’Keeffe Making a Stew, Ghost Ranch. Todd Webb, 1962.