Georgia O'Keeffe

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I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way — things I had no words for.
I have things in my head that are not like what anyone taught me — shapes and ideas so near to me,so natural to my way of being and thinking.

Georgia O'Keeffe (15 November 18876 March 1986) was an American modernist painter. O'Keeffe has been a major figure in American art since the 1920s. She is chiefly known for paintings in which she synthesizes abstraction and representation in paintings of flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones and landscapes. Her paintings present crisply contoured forms that are replete with subtle tonal transitions of varying colors, and she often transformed her subject matter into powerful abstract images.

Quotes[edit]

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It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense.
The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.
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'Georgia O'Keeffe', marble sculpture by Gaston Lachaise, 1927, Metropolitan Museum of Art.jpg

1910s[edit]

  • Anita, I have just come the comforting conclusion that I’ll have to paint acres and acres of water color landscapes before I will look for even a passably fair one. After about ten attempts — I certainly have to laugh at myself — It’s like feeling around in the dark — thought I knew what I was going to try to do but I find I don’t — and guess I’ll only find out by slaving away at it. I feel — like a wreck — Have been working like mad all day — and you know how deliciously disgusted with every thing one can be — when the sun begins to go down — and one has been working ones head off all day. It gives me the sensation I used to have when I was a youngster and was going away from home on the train — It is a very special sort of sick feeling.
    • Letter to Anita Pollitzer, New York City (February 1916), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 145
  • Today I walked into the sunset — to mail some letters — … But some way or other I didn’t seem to like the redness much so after I mailed the letters I walked home — and kept walking - The Eastern sky was all grey blue — bunches of clouds — different kinds of clouds — sticking around everywhere and the whole thing — lit up — first in one place — then in another with flashes of lightning — sometimes just sheet lightning — and some times sheet lightning with a sharp bright zigzag flashing across it -. I walked out past the last house — past the last locust tree — and sat on the fence for a long time — looking — just looking at — the lightning — you see there was nothing but sky and flat prairie land — land that seems more like the ocean than anything else I know — There was a wonderful moon. Well I just sat there and had a great time by myself — Not even many night noises — just the wind — … I wondered what you were doing - It is absurd the way I love this country — Then when I came back — it was funny — roads just shoot across blocks anywhere — all the houses looked alike — and I almost got lost — I had to laugh at myself — I couldn’r tell which house was home - I am loving the plains more than ever it seems — and the SKY — Anita you have never seen SKY — it is wonderful —
    • Canyon, Texas, letter to Anita Pollitzer (September 11, 1916), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), pp. 183-184
  • As I opened the door — I heard cattle — many — in the pens over by the track — lowing — I wonder if you ever heard a whole lot of cattle lowing — it sounds different here — too — just ground and sky — and the lowing cattle — you hardly see — either them or the pens — the pens are of weather beaten boards — take on the color of the ground it seems — I like it and I don’t like it — its like music — I made up a tune this morning — Well — I heard the cattle — as I opened the door — and I liked it and I didn’t liked it — then I read your letter as I walked to breakfast — a great letter — Anita -
    • Canyon, Texas, letter to Anita Pollitzer (November, 1916), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 216

1920-30s[edit]

  • School and things that painters have taught me even keep me from painting as I want to. I decided I was a very stupid fool not to be at least paint as I wanted to and say what I wanted to when I painted as that seemed to be the only thing I could do that didn’t concern anybody but myself … I found that I could say things with colour and shapes that I couldn’t say in any other way things that I had no words for.
    • Foreword in the catalogue of her show at the Anderson Galleries in New York, 1926
  • I know I cannot paint a flower. I can not paint the sun on the desert on a bright summer morning but maybe in terms of paint color I can convey to you my experience of the flower or the experience that makes the flower of significance to me at that particular time.
    • Letter to William Milliken (1930), quoted in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe, (1981), p. 128
  • Artists and religionists are never far apart, they go to the sources of revelation for what they choose to experience and what they report is the degree of their experiences. Intellect wishes to arrange — intuition wishes to accept.
    • A Second Outline in Portraiture (1936), as quoted in Gail R. scott, Marsden Hartley (Abbeville Publishers, Cross River Press, 1988, New York), p. 167.
  • A flower is relatively small. Everyone has many associations with a flower - the idea of flowers. You put out your hand to touch the flower — lean forward to smell it — maybe touch it with your lips almost without thinking — or give it to someone to please them. Still — in a way — nobody sees a flower — really — it is so small — we haven’t time — and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time … ’So I said to myself — I’ll paint what I see — what the flower is to me but I’ll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it — I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers: ‘Well — I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flower, you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see of the flower — and I don’t.
    • Contribution (1939) to the exhibition catalogue An American place (1944)

1940-50s[edit]

  • So, probably … when I started painting the pelvis bones I was most interested in the holes in the bones — what I saw through them- particularly the blue from holding them up in the sun against the sky as one is apt to do when one seems to have more sky than earth in one’s world … they were most beautiful against the Blue — that Blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.
    • Contribution to the exhibition catalogue An American Place (1944)
  • My spring has been much better than every travelling springs of the last two years — I have been working — or trying to work my garden into a kind of permanent shape … At the moment I have three rose bushes so full of red and yellow roses that they look on fire — they are really astonishing — You would really laugh to see them — two are very tall — the other smaller — It is a rose that is the reddest red on top and yellow underneath — then sometimes a few spots that are deep butter yellow — - and an odd iris — dirty lavender petals reaching up — a pale lavender mixed with yellow that greys it and yellow petals mixed with a little lavender drooping down — very handsome — There are lots of ordinary colors too — many kinds. Well — that’s my life —
    • Abiquiu, New Mexico, letter to Anita Pollitzer (May 31, 1955), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 298
  • Dear Anita, don’t forget Mary Cassatt — and I am not sure that your new paragraph will hold water — We probably all derive from something — with some it is more obvious than with others — so much so that we can not escape a language of line that has been growing in meaning since the beginning of lines
    • Abiquiu, New Mexico, letter to Anita Pollitzer (January 17, 1956), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 305

1960-70s[edit]

  • Dear Anita, I read your manuscript some time ago and it has lain on my table — … You have written your dream picture of me — and I am not that way at all. We are such different kinds of people that it reads as if we spoke different languages and didn’t understand one another at all. You write of the legends others have made up about me — but when I read your manuscript, it seems as much a myth as all the others. I really believe that to call this my biography when it has so little to do with me is impossible — and I cannot have my name exploited to further it.
    • Abiquiu, New Mexico, letter to Anita Pollitzer (February 28, 1968), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 320
  • I do not like the idea of happiness — it is too momentary — I would say that I was always busy and interested in something — interest has more meaning to me than the idea of happiness.
    • Abiquiu, New Mexico, notes to Anita Pollitzer (after 1968), from The Complete Correspondence of Georgia O’Keeffe & Anita Pollitzer, edited by Clive Giboire (Touchstone Books, Simon & Schuster Inc., New York, 1990), p. 324
  • I hate flowers — I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move!
    • Quoted in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe (1981), p. 180

Some Memories of Drawings (1976)[edit]

Some Memories of Drawings, Viking Press, New York, 1976

  • The meaning of a word — to me — is not as exact as the meaning of a colour. Colours and shapes make a more definite statement than words. I write this because such odd things have been done about me with words. I have often been told what to paint … I make this effort because no one else can know how my paintings happen.
    • Foreword (1974)
  • I don’t really know where I got my artists idea. The scraps of what I remember do not explain to me where it came from. I only know that by this time it was definitely settled in my mind.
    • About becoming an artist
  • On the way I stood a moment looking out across the marshes with tall cattails, a patch of water, more marsh, then the woods with a few birch trees shining white at the edge on beyond. In the darkness it all looked just like I felt. Wet and swampy and gloomy, very gloomy. In the morning I painted it. My memory of it is that it was probably my best painting that summer
    • [1913/14]
  • Those perilous climbings were frightening, but it was wonderful to me and not like anything I had known before. The fright of the day was still with me in the night and I would often dream that the foot of my bed rose straight up into the air — then just as it was to fall I would wake up. Many drawings came from days like that, and later some oil paintings.
    • About climbing the Palo Duro Canyon, 1916
  • Bement told me things to read. He told me of exhibitions to go and see... the two books that he told me to get were Jeromy Eddy ‘Cubists and Post-impressionism’ and Kandinsky ‘On the Spiritual of Art’... It was some time before I really begun to use the ideas. I didn’t start at until I was down in Carolina — alone — thinking things out for myself.
  • Later I had two green ones [alligator pears] — not so perfect. I painted them several times when the men didn’t think much of what I was doing. They were all discussing Cézanne, with long involved remarks about the ‘plastic quality’ of his form and colour. I was an outsider. My colour and form were not acceptable. It had nothing to do with Cézanne or anything else. I didn’t understand what they were talking about why one colour was better than another … Years later when I finally got to Cézanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire in the south of France, I remember sitting there thinking, ‘How could they attach all those analytical remarks to anything he did with that mountain?’ All those entire words piled on top of that poor little mountain seemed too much.
  • The clean clear colours were in my head. But one day as I looked at the brown burned wood of the Shanty, I thought ‘I can paint one of those dismal-coloured paintings like the men. I think just for fun I will try — all low-toned and dreary with the tree besides the door.’ In my next show, ‘The Shanty’ went up. The men seemed to approve of it. They seemed to think that maybe I was beginning to paint … that was my only low-toned dismal-coloured painting.
  • I painted ‘the Shelton with Sunspots’ in 1926. I went out one morning to look at it before I started to work and there was the optical illusion of a bite out of one side of the tower made by the sun, with sunspots against the building and against the sky. I made that painting beginning at the upper left and went off at the lower right without going back.
  • I find that I have painted my life, things happening in my life — without knowing. After painting the shell and shingle many times, I did a misty landscape of the mountain across the lake, and the mountain became the shape of the shingle — the mountain I saw out my window, the shingle on the table in my room. I did not notice that they were alike for a long time after they were painted.
  • After I had been in Canada painting the wide white barns along the Saint Lawrence river, I thought how different the life of the Canadian farmer was from life in Cebolla. So I painted the Cebolla church which is so typical of that difficult life. I have always thought it one of my very good paintings, though its message is not as pleasant as many of the others.
  • There are people who have made me see shapes — and others I thought of a great deal, even people I have loved, who make me see nothing. I have painted portraits that to me are almost photographic. I remember hesitating to show the paintings, they looked so real to me. But they have passed into the world as abstractions - no one seeing what they are.
  • I don’t remember where I picked up the head — or the hollyhock. Flowers were planted among the vegetables in the garden between the house and the hills and I probably picked the hollyhock one day as I walked past. My paintings sometimes grow by pieces from what is around … I have used these things to say what is to me the wideness and wonder of the world as I live in it.
  • It is surprising to me to see how many people separate the objective from the abstract. Objective painting is not good painting unless it is good in the abstract sense. A hill or tree cannot make a good painting just because it is a hill or a tree. It is lines and colours put together so that they say something. For me that is the very basis of painting. The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can only clarify in paint.
  • The unexplainable thing in nature that makes me feel the world is big fat beyond my understanding — to understand maybe by trying to put it into form. To find the feeling of infinity on the horizon line or just over the next hill.

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