Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe’s art and ma­te­ri­als

Pasatiempo - - Onstage This Week - Amy He­garty For The New Mex­i­can

Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe once said, “Noth­ing is less real than re­al­ism. De­tails are con­fus­ing. It is only by se­lec­tion, by elim­i­na­tion, by em­pha­sis that we get at the real mean­ing of things.” When it comes to the work of this artist, get­ting to the real mean­ing of things is about to take a fresh turn, thanks to the ex­hi­bi­tion O’Ke­ef­fi­ana: Art and Art Ma­te­ri­als, which show­cases the artist’s works in var­i­ous me­dia along­side her tools — paints, brushes, can­vases, sketch­books, and more — as well as found ob­jects that served as the phys­i­cal in­spi­ra­tion be­hind her works. The ex­hibit opens at the Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe Mu­seum on Fri­day, Sept. 24.

“We’re ex­cited about this ex­hi­bi­tion be­cause it’s the first time we’ve shared such an ex­ten­sive se­lec­tion of the mu­seum’s ar­chive of O’Ke­effe’s per­sonal art ma­te­ri­als,” said Carolyn Kast­ner, cu­ra­tor of the show and as­so­ci­ate cu­ra­tor of the mu­seum. “Her pas­sion for cre­at­ing art is expressed in the speci­ficity of the ma­te­ri­als she pre­served.” De­cid­ing which pieces would be part of the ex­hi­bi­tion was based on Kast­ner’s own form of se­lec­tion, elim­i­na­tion, and em­pha­sis. “I looked for the ma­te­ri­als that helped to shape her artis­tic prac­tice,” she said. “Paired with her art, these ma­te­ri­als will shed new light on O’Ke­effe’s imag­i­na­tive and tech­ni­cal pro­cesses.”

Get­ting a glimpse at the in­ner work­ings of an artist’s mind and gain­ing in­sight into her unique pro­cesses holds value for both the ca­sual and se­ri­ous mu­seum-goer. Kast­ner made some dis­cov­er­ies when she pored through O’Ke­effe’s nu­mer­ous sketch­books. “At the time of her death, O’Ke­effe had over 700 sketches,” she said. “By com­par­ing the sketches to the fin­ished paint­ings, I be­gan to see how she trans­lated her first per­cep­tion of an ob­ject into a com­po­si­tion.” A case in point is the draw­ing Un­ti­tled (Tent Door at Night). Bar­bara Buhler Lynes, mu­seum cu­ra­tor and Emily Fisher Landau Di­rec­tor of the Ge­or­gia O’Ke­effe Re­search Cen­ter, said: “By com­par­ing this sketch to the oil paint­ing In­side the Tent While at U. of Vir­ginia, the clar­ity of O’Ke­effe’s first idea is ap­par­ent. The draw­ing is cre­ated with a firm, clear line that frames an ab­stract tri­an­gu­lar shape; only the ti­tle iden­ti­fies it as a tent door. From her first vis­ual re­al­iza­tion to the fin­ished oil paint­ing, the strength and com­mit­ment of O’Ke­effe’s ideas are expressed by her con­sis­tent use of the tri­an­gu­lar form at the cen­ter of each work.”

In O’Ke­ef­fi­ana, the artist’s com­mit­ment to her ideas and to the pre­ci­sion of her craft is demon­strated not just through the works on dis­play, but also through the ma­te­ri­als, like brushes and paint chips. “O’Ke­effe shaped her brushes by trim­ming and shav­ing them to ac­com­plish spe­cific tasks, such as trac­ing a pre­cise con­tour or feath­er­ing the paint to craft an even sur­face,” Lynes said. “Fur­ther, she was per­sis­tent in her ef­fort to find just the right com­bi­na­tion of col­ors to rep­re­sent the sub­jects she loved. Once sat­is­fied, she doc­u­mented the color for­mula vis­ually by paint­ing it on a small rec­tan­gle of can­vas and then writ­ing the in­gre­di­ents she had used on the back of it so that she knew which col­ors to com­bine if she wanted to work with the color again.”

Color is a dom­i­nant and im­me­di­ate as­pect of O’Ke­effe’s nu­mer­ous land­scape paint­ings, and in O’Ke­ef­fi­ana we see the de­lib­er­ate­ness be­hind not just her pal­ette but also in the ob­jects she chose to in­clude. In 1976, O’Ke­effe said: “I have picked flow­ers where I found them, have picked up sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood where there were sea shells and rocks and pieces of wood that I liked. When I found the beau­ti­ful white bones on the desert I picked them up and took them home too.” Kast­ner ex­plained that dis­play­ing found ob­jects such as the ones O’Ke­effe de­scribed here high­lights how closely at­tuned O’Ke­effe was to her ma­te­ri­als. “O’Ke­effe’s par­tic­u­lar and per­sonal en­counter with the land­scape of North­ern New Mex­ico is ar­tic­u­lated in the as­ton­ish­ing col­lec­tion of bleached bones and smooth stones she gath­ered in her desert walks,” she said. “Shown with her paint­ings, these

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