Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco presents Modern Nature: Georgia O’Keeffe and Lake George at the de Young Museum, in Golden Gate Park, from Feb. 15-May 11, 2014. The exhibition of 55 works by the great modern painter reveal so much about O’Keeffe’s inner vision as well as how the outer world looked to her. Erin B. Coe, Chief Curator of the Hyde Collection, Glen Falls, NY, explained that in studying O’Keeffe’s life work, she found that the works created in Lake George had been overlooked and never exhibited for their own importance rather than as a sort of warm up preparation for the artist’s relocation to New Mexico. Georgia O’Keeffe spent nearly half each year from 1918-1934 at Lake George, in upstate NY, staying at the 36 acre farm that belonged to Alfred Stieglitz’s family. It is an exhibition of great depth that shows O’Keeffe’s close connection to the land: specific old trees, flowers and fruits that she planted herself, views of the lake and nearby mountains. The works, wonderful in themselves, served to revitalize interest in landscape, still life, and paintings of buildings at a time when art critics and collectors had decided those subjects were “out.” There are no people in the paintings. The fruits and trees have enough presence on their own, and O’Keeffe lets them fill the canvas. She brings us close to the heart of the trees. Each work of a flower or fruit is a portrait of a being which is very clearly alive, or in the case of the fruit, the product of a living thing, and has its own powerful character. In Lake George, gardening became very important in her life. She had grown up on a farm in Wisconsin. She took more than an acre planted in corn and renewed her interest in botany and horticulture. Among the riveting images are those in a series of paintings of jack-in-the-pulpit flowers. The paintings progress to ever closer close ups as the essence of the flower is presented in a simplified but powerful vision. This is an eye-opening exhibition, one that deserves a close and slow look. O’Keeffe was certain that her work took time to see and to assimilate as she seems to have incorporated each flower and tree into her own understanding. She could then transmit a painting that opened up a way to see them better than one might just walking by. Here’s Georgia O’Keeffe on why she painted the flowers as she did:
“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.”
A wonderful experience to get this close to O’Keeffe’s thought and vision; don’t miss it. Pictures: at top, Lake George, 1922; L to R:Autumn Leaves, 1924; Petunias, 1925, all by Georgia O’Keeffe.