London Culture | Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern

Poppies | Georgia O'KeeffeOriental Poppies, Georgia O’Keeffe

‘I paint because colour is a significant language to me.’ – Georgia O’Keeffe

The other week, I met up with a Miranda’s Notebook reader (hi, Peter!) to see the new exhibition at Tate Modern, a retrospective of the American artist Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), celebrating 100 years of her work since her first exhibition in New York. The Tate Modern exhibition is huge – spanning several rooms – and encompasses work from the 1910s to the 1960s. Alongside O’Keeffe’s paintings are collections of her books – many inscribed by her friends – and numerous photographs taken by her husband Alfred Stieglitz. This exhibition, then, offers the viewer a well-rounded glimpse into the life and influences of a pioneering artist.

As a leader in American Modernism, Georgia O’Keeffe is one of the country’s most significant female artists, whose iconic landscapes and flower paintings are instantly recognisable. Having grown up in the US, I was already well acquainted with her work. As a child, my family had spent about 6 months living in New Mexico, where O’Keeffe lived for many years. O’Keeffe was fascinated by the desert landscape and she explored the distinctive colours and shapes of the land around her many times through her art. Looking at her paintings brought my memories of New Mexico rushing back to me, recalling the rusted reds and pinks of the cliffs and the vastness of the horizon.

black-mesa-landscape-new-mexico-out-back-of-mary-s-ii Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie’s II, Georgia O’Keeffe

Black Place III Georgia O'KeeffeBlack Place II, Georgia O’Keeffe

From the Faraway, Nearby | Georgia O'KeefeFrom the Faraway, Nearby, Georgia O’Keeffe

It is O’Keeffe’s instinctive, extraordinary eye for colour that I find so exciting. Even in a seemingly monotonous landscape of desert, she identified a rich palette of colours, saying:

‘I wish you could see what I see out the windows – the earth pink and yellow cliffs to the north – the full pale moon about to go down in an early lavender sky behind a very 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.’

Her visceral delight in colour is joyously represented in her beautiful flower paintings, which of course were the ones I lingered over the most.

036N09229_3VTS8Jimson Weed / White Flower No.1, Georgia O’Keeffe

Single Calla Lily | Georgia O'KeeffeSingle Calla Lily, Georgia O’Keeffe

I rather wished there were more flowers on display, but I appreciated that the exhibition wanted to show the full scope of O’Keeffe’s work. My other real favourites were the New York Cityscapes, which so vividly capture the spirit and energy of the Big Apple, as well as its awe-inspiring architecture.

new-york-street-with-moon-1925-okeefe-1356381673_orgNew York Street With Moon, Georgia O’Keeffe

I so recommend getting to this exhibition as soon as you can, and I know I’ll be returning to it several times. There is so much to enjoy, and lovers of colour will definitely be in rapture!

In case you like reading around a subject, I had fun compiling a reading list for books that I feel accompany this exhibition rather well. I’d love to hear any ideas you may have too!

Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition Reading Suggestions

1/ My Faraway One: Selected Letters

A fascinating, lyrical collection of letters between Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz.

2/ Georgia O’Keeffe and Her Houses

A beautiful book documenting the history of O’Keeffe’s two houses in New Mexico and their influence on her art.

3/ The Spell of New Mexico

Edited by Tony Hillerman, this is a brilliant collection of essays exploring the appeal New Mexico has held for many famous writers. Included are writings by D.H. Lawrence, Mary Austin and Winfield Townley Scott, amongst many others.

4/ Georgia Rises

A richly inspiring children’s picture book by the acclaimed author Kathryn Lasky. A day in the life of Georgia O’Keeffe is imagined in this gorgeously colourful book.

5/ Ride the Pink Horse

One of my very favourite Persephone Books is an American thriller: The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes. Hughes is a wonderful writer and wrote some novels set in New Mexico. Ride the Pink Horse is on my list to read, as is The Blackbirder.

6/ Death Comes For the Archbishop

Willa Cather’s classic novel masterfully captures the extraordinary landscape of the Southwestern desert.

7/ The Harvey Girls

An intriguing account of the history of New Mexico, told from the perspective of the women that helped shape the lives of early settlers along the Santa Fe Railroad.

8/ Cafe Pasqual’s Cookbook

You know I can never have too many cookbooks, and this one offers delicious recipes from one of the best-loved restaurants in Santa Fe.

Are you a fan of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work? Have you been to the Tate Modern exhibition yet?

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{Note: I am travelling to France for two weeks tomorrow and will have very limited internet access whilst I’m there, so I most likely won’t be publishing anything on the blog. I envision many posts telling you all about Provence on my return, though, and in the meantime you can follow my adventures on instagram.}