Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern

Off to London to see the Georgia O’Keeffe at the Tate.

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Just to set the visual scene….. I took a couple of photos yesterday that have spurred me to choose the particular O’Keeffe image above. This most monochrome version of the three “Black Place” landscapes on show in London sprang out at me from Google thismorning when preparing to set off for the show. I saved it. Then I saw it on my iphone photos, alongside this photo taken yesterday :-

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I think that it is unkanny how the brain makes associations and it’s great fun to unpick them. It’s not the whole story of making, but probably a more important one than I tend to give it credit for. The composition on this very industrial scene in Sheffield’s Don Valley taken yesterday clearly influenced my decision to pick that particular O’Keeffe painting above thismorning. I just didn’t realise until I saw them both together.

Here is another O’Keeffe image. I wonder if I can make it work back the other way?

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It’s a bit of a challenge this, and obviously not operating at the same unconscious level as the previous choice. Anyway I’ll give it a go…..

A bit contrived and the figures don’t add anything but it’s not unsuccessful:-

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What can a Prisma filter do? …..

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Hmnn, very much not an O’Keeffe, but maybe its got something going for it…..

In the meantime, this old painting of mine popped into my head:-

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I think that it has some of the organic elements of O’Keeffe’s works and also the large areas of colour. The whole thing is not really in the same class though, with the more textured flat areas and the slightly confused complexity in parts. Some of the tonal work has merit though and I need to think of that when moving on to painting (rather than blog rambling:)).


Having been around the exhibition now, I am struck by several things:-

She was a really good black and white artist whose drawings and subsequent painting drew heavily on photography and the influence of her partner at the time. Then later on her friend the photographer Ansel Adams. (Apart from her own photos of course).

Also she did a whole load of work based on buildings in New York:-

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So is my London architecture playfulness/experimentation perhaps so far off the mark?  Certainly the factory silhouette at the start of this blog could fit in quite neatly with some aspects of O’Keeffe’s vision. How about this photo from earlier today also?

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I really was struck by her responses to New York, but when it comes to it my response to London architecture (wonderful as it is in all sorts of ways)  is not to get excited about the idea of painting it. She lived in New York  I do not live in London.  I do live near the Don Valley factories though and I think that is the difference. The factories and silhouettes against the Don Valley light, move and inspire me and make me want to paint. London (fantastic as the late Summer light and architecture are) does not. So Georgia O’Keefe leads me confidently back to a place that matters.


She clearly had a much broader vision than the popular “sexuality metaphor” reputation that was promoted by her husband initially and then vociferously denied by her for decades afterwards.

I particularly liked the “Bones” paintings and think it is all well and good that they represent the beginnings of a partial iconography for 20th century America:-

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Much more than the narrow surrealist interpretation offered by some critics at the time. This is not Dali.


The importance of place is the thing though as I have hinted at earlier. It comes through with power and dignity in her work. Clearly this is what she is about to a huge extent. I was amused by her quote, “God promised me that if I painted the mountain enough times, then he would give it to me”. (Words to that effect).

So what does one take from this?

……in a few words, the importance of place, a confidence around abstraction, a boldness of colour, a sparing but necessary use of black, the power of painting in series and an unerring projection of personal emotions.

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