I recently spent the day in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My Mum and cousin were in town and the one thing that was a ‘must’ on my cousin’s list of things to do in New Mexico was visit the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.
I thought the above pictured sign outside the museum was a little funny. It’s the Store Hours equivalent of Where’s Waldo — or maybe “One of these things is not like the other! One of these things just belong!“
I’d not been to this museum in a very, very, very long time. It’d maybe been ten years? I have to admit, as modern art goes, I’m not what you would call an O’Keefe fan by any stretch of the imagination. There are pieces that she did prior to New York that I like a lot (mostly watercolors), but her most famous work is her flower paintings, and I like them to a point…..and then they get kind of ‘meh‘ to me.
That all being said, I loved the museum and the exhibits.
The museum doesn’t just concentrate on the flowers. Most of the work that I liked the most were rather small pieces. Most of those being still life work. I also liked that they displayed some of her small sketchbooks along with more fleshed out studies and in some instances, the finished work. My favourite piece from the visit was this one:
I know it doesn’t seem like an overly interesting piece, but I think it really shows off O’Keefe’s abilities as a painter. The horse shoe is so heavy and geometric; objects like this can appear simple to replicate, but then prove to be horrendously difficult to get right in a drawing or on canvas. The turkey feathers are wonderfully subtle, yet solidly on the table. The little fluffs at the end of the feathers are almost not there; a light hand and great patience were used to render them this way. The reflections on the table are expertly executed. The small red highlight in the reflected light of the table surface, as well as the small fluffs are the product of an artist who took the time to do real observation of her subject matter. She just didn’t throw these objects on a table and start painting. She did what I tell every single one of my students to do — “Look, I mean take the time to actually LOOK at the object or thing you want to draw. Arts have to spend a lot of time observing before starting any piece of artwork.“
There was another exhibit of studies and paintings that O’Keefe did of Kachinas. They were much, much smaller than I expected. I liked the diminutive nature of the pieces, they seemed more intimate than her larger paintings.
The painting above doesn’t really capture what the surface of the painting looks like in real life. The small spray of red, surrounded by white and blue is really stunning in person. The piece below is from the exhibition too. The color is amazing.
The bought a small print of the above painting. I loved the sketchbook that was shown along with this painting. The way that she chose to render the bell and cross is so subtle. The cross is so straight and bright against the blue sky; it would have been so easy to simply make the entire composition completely even and balanced. This would have been maddening to look at though! The slight shift of the bell off the center axis of the composition, as well as organically uneven shadows on the wall and the black of the window being broken up with the brown (wood?), makes this painting one of my absolute favourites of the exhibition.
I’m very happy that my cousin wanted to see the O’Keefe museum as much as she wanted to, otherwise, I wouldn’t have developed more respect for a very talented artist.