O if for . . .


April 17, 2014 by Ray Yanek


O’Keeffe, Georgia (1887-1986)

I knew the name.  I immediately recognized her portrait and recalled that her art had

Photo by Alfred Stieglitz  Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Photo by Alfred Stieglitz
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

connections to the American Southwest, but for the life of me I couldn’t recall any distinct works that she created.

I’ll be staring at a  mountain of research papers that need graded later in the day, so I’ll blame that for my lapse in memory.

Anyway, there seems to be two basic periods in the artistic life of O’Keeffe.  The early part of her career (after leaving art to teach for a bit) began after she was convinced by her soon-to-be-husband and life-long partner Alfred Stieglitz, to quit her job and take up painting full time.  O’Keeffe was heavily influenced by Japanese art and the culture’s belief in a mixture of light and dark in painting.  Her goal was not realism, but rather to paint how she felt about her specific subject.  This influence can easily be seen in the many flower paintings she created during this period

Grey Line With Black, Blue, and Yellow Source: www.wikipaitings.org

Grey Line With Black, Blue, and Yellow
Source: http://www.wikipaitings.org

And what can also easily be seen by many is the yonic symbolism of the flowers.  Yonic symbols are those which represent the fecundity of the female and the female sex organs.  O’Keefe, in various interviews, denied consciously painting any of the erotic overtones that people believe are apparent in such works as Black Iris, and that people are merely seeing what they want to see in her works.   whether O’Keeffe was serious in her denial or saying it with a sly wink, I don’t know.

O’Keefe did say, however, that “when you take a flower in

Black Iris III Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Black Iris III
Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art

your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.  I want to give that world to someone else” (qtd in biography.com).  She succeeds in that.  Looking at these flowers, into the colors and the shades and the mixture of tones, you fall into the painting and everything else goes away.

Her second artistic phase began after O’Keeffe was introduced to the desert landscapes of first

Ram's Head, White Hollyhock and Little Hills Source: wikipaintings.org

Ram’s Head, White Hollyhock and Little Hills
Source: wikipaintings.org

Texas and then New Mexico.  O’Keeffe fell in love with the wide open spaces and with the movement of the clouds and the shadows over the desert.  She focused these paintings on her ‘feeling’ about the landscapes and often placed with in them the bleached bones of long-gone animals.  And occasionally a flower still pokes through. Occasionally also, so too does that yonic symbol.

But I suppose that’s for the viewer to decide.


4 thoughts on “O if for . . .

  1. Topaz says:

    Miss O’Keefe has always fascinated me – some of her landscape paintings are absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing this interesting and informative post. 🙂

  2. Kathe W. says:

    Fabulous artist!

    • Ray Yanek says:

      She really is. The other interesting thing that I read, and I think it was in reference to her portrait, was that she said that people always told her she had beautiful hands, and she really does. Interesting that beautiful hands created so many beautiful pieces of art.

  3. P Liegl says:

    “Yonic” symbolism!? I will never see her work in the same light again.
    Her paintings Have been favorites of mine and still will be. Love the colors and form in her art.

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