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1887 – 1986
The Vision Thing
In early 20th-century America, art was a man’s world, where women – even those with extraordinary talent and groundbreaking vision – were seen as no equal to men. Georgia O’Keeffe helped changed that. With an idiosyncratic style and bold use of color, O’Keeffe was at the forefront of American modernism. In a career that spanned more than six decades, she “made it possible for other women to explore a new gamut of symbolic and ambiguous imagery,” said her obituary in The New York Times.
O’Keeffe was discovered in 1916 by photographer and art dealer Alfred Stieglitz. Seeing her work for the first time, he said, “At last, a woman on paper!” Stieglitz convinced O’Keeffe to move to New York in 1918, and they were married six years later. He was an ardent patron and collaborator, staging exhibitions of her work nearly every year. O’Keeffe’s first New York exhibition of 100 paintings and drawings, in 1923, was a critical success. In 1929, O’Keeffe visited New Mexico, which in later years would become not only her home but also provide her with her most enduring subject matter. Her desert landscapes and bone still lifes are profoundly beautiful and utterly American.
O’Keeffe would stop at nothing to capture images on canvas. Wrapped in a blanket, she would wait in the cold for a sunrise or climb a ladder to the roof of her New Mexico home to see the stars. Her subjects ranged from trees and mountains to skyscrapers and desert churches. Her colorful, oversized close-ups of flowers, which she began painting in the early 1920s, were completely original, unusually intimate and often described as sexually suggestive, if not explicit.
For decades, the diversity and individuality of her work puzzled critics who refused O’Keeffe the attention she deserved. Finally, in 1970, when she was 83, O’Keeffe was recognized, in a retrospective at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, as an artist ahead of her time. Her work hangs today in museums and private collections around the world.
Explaining what she wanted to accomplish with her art, O’Keeffe once said: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment. I want to give that world to someone else. Most people in the city rush around so they have no time to look at a flower. I want them to see it whether they want to or not.”
Alice Guy Blache: Nellie Bly: Louise Bourgeois: Margaret Bourke-White: Gwendolyn Brooks: Rita Dove: Lorraine Hansberry: Sherry Lansing: Ellen Manderfield: Leontyne Price: Beverly Sills: Anna Edson Taylor: Camilla Williams: