Click to enlarge'SPACE' in Georgia O'Keeffe Art
©"Leaves" to Georgia O'Keeffe
Essay by Nohra Corredor

"SPACE" in Georgia O'Keeffe's Art

by Nohra Corredor

"Far from the immensities of the sea and land, merely through memory, we can recapture, by means of meditation, the resonances of this contemplation of grandeur. But is this really memory? Isn't imagination alone able to enlarge indefinitely the images of immensity?" Gaston Bachelard, "The Poetics of Space/Intimate Immensity"

Georgia O'Keeffe was born in November 15, 1887, in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. Early schooling took place in Sun Prairie and Madison, Wisconsin, then in Virginia. During Georgia's two years in Virginia her attentions were equally divided between art and music. She studied both piano and violin (both instruments were played by her parents while growing up). Music remained an important part of Georgia's art and though she dedicated her life to painting, she understood and kept art and music closely connected. She studied with Arthur Wesley Dow 'harmony and balance' - key words in his theories. She developed compositional formats of music inspired-abstractions to express her intermittent personal statements - and from simple and harmonious structures she created melodies out of repetition and contrast of her own 'symphonic' forms.
In her own words: "a wonderful night - I've been wanting to tell someone about it. I've labored on the violin till all my fingers are sore. I imagine I could tell about the sky tonight if I could only get the noises I want to out of it. I'm going to try to tell you - about tonight - another way - I'm going to try to tell you about the music of it - with charchoal a miserable medium for things that seem alive and sing." Letter to her friend Anita Pollitzer (1915)
She explained one of her mountain landscapes by describing the day she had done it: "That day I discovered that by running against the wind with a bunch of pine branches in your hand you could have the pine trees singing right in your ears".

Alon Bement, art mentor and one her early teachers, introduced Georgia to the idea of direct transliteration from music to art, which she found very appealing since it emphasized the affinity between the abstract nature of music and that of art, a relationship that she was very aware of. She knew she was very sensitive to SOUND and conscious of natural aural rhythms. Bement suggested to her Wassily Kandinsky "The Art of Spiritual Harmony", published in 1914, which had a profound influence on her. Kandinsky was concerned with expressing 'mood' without preserving the object which provoked it but through finding an entirely imaginative equivalent. Later, her friendship with Arthur Dove, one of America's earliest abstractionists, helped her understand more in depth this relationship. (i.e. "A Storm"/1922, "Lightning At Sea"/1922). And years later, O'Keeffe's paintings provided inspiration for Dove's work. When she moved to Abiquiu, she wrote to him describing her perceptions:
"I wish you could see out the window - the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north - the full pale moon about to go down in an early morning lavender sky behind a very long beautiful tree covered mesa to the west - pink and purple hills in front and the scrubby fine dull green cedars and a feeling of much space - it is a very beautiful world". Georgia O'Keeffe's colors, shapes, patterns are concrete evidences, projected from within, of the internality of her mood, independent of the outer world, sustained by a random flow of private and incommunicable associations. The external object that underlie the mood re-emerges in her abstractions in a new form. Her aesthetic experience through SPACE/Sound permitted her to recreate her compositions from the naturalistic to the abstract.
"Quite sensibly, there is an inner law of harmony at work in the composition of these drawings and paintings of Miss O'Keeffe, and they are more truly inspired than any work I have seen. Of all the things earthly, it is only in music that one finds any analogy to the emotional content of these drawings - to the gigantic swirling rhythms, and the exquisite tendernesses so powerfully and sensitively rendered - and music is the condition towards which, according to Pater, all art constantly aspires. Well, plastic art, in the hands of Miss O'Keeffe, seems now to have approximated that." W.M. Murell Fisher/The Georgia O'Keeffe Drawings and Paintings at '291', Camera Work No.XLIX-L,1917.

"SPACE"/"Visual Geological Landprints" of Georgia O'Keeffe

"The quality of light in New Mexico enabled O'Keeffe to see clearly over great distances as if endowed with telescopic vision. Thus, paintings such as "Near Abiquiu, New Mexico" show the landscape as a succession of receding layers. The monumental images of enormous mountain ranges and expansive space were deeply impressed in her mind." Lisa Mintz Messinger on O'Keeffe.
Nature does not frame; landscapes, seascapes, and land formations. Artists who develop a keen observation of Nature are exposed to the aesthetic experience that imposes a frame to the spectacle of it, which takes them to 'frame' this intimate experience and to "compose" their works of art. The aerial perspective of Georgia O'Keeffe seems to turn landscapes into landprints as if the vast space opened and thus, enabled her to visualize the immensity and vastness of the earth resembling panoramic views or satellite photographs only possible until recent years.

Georgia O'keeffe traveled widely, around the world and over most of the United States, and her attraction to the immensity of SPACE inspired her to make her home in the northern part of the Rio Grande rift, in the village of Abiquiu, where she lived until the end of her life. As with other rift valleys, the history of this one has been a tale of repeated and often colossal volcanic eruptions. The volcanic fields near Taos and Questa were active as early as twenty-six million years ago. O'Keeffe's desert landscapes and her isolated skulls, floating free of any visible support, show certain connection to these associations.

O'Keeffe's nature paths are like doorsteps onto the world of SPACE, of entrance into the eons of time. And she indeed entered those paths with a magnifying glass. Once the depth of her flowers and 'landprints' are settled in our imagination, matter and form come alive and fill with life. We are now fully exposed to the 'harmony' of her visual composition, receiving echoes of resonant waves against the horizon, of the melodic Nature's cycles kept in the fragility of a petal or in the crispness of a stalk.

The whole tonality of life becomes, at once, sonorous and silent as described by Lisa Mintz Messinger's 1988 extraordinary survey of Georgia O'Keeffe life and work.
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