“I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at – not copy it”
– Georgia O’Keeffe
A few years ago, the library was having a clear out and I nabbed this book before it was binned. It’s one I’d taken out countless times when I fell in love with Georgia O’Keeffe as a student. When I got home and flicked through it, I found my old paint spillages from using it as a reference in the studio and I could just make out all my old stamped return dates underneath the replacement label.
It was one of those finds that you just stumble upon. I wasn’t looking for it but there it was and I just wondered if it might be the same copy. And it was. Seeing it again brought back a lot of memories and reminded me of the impact O’Keeffe’s art had on me when I was younger. I hadn’t thought about her in a long time.
I’d chosen Georgia for a project that I can’t recall the theme of now, but it was her smooth style of painting and her close up perspective that caught my attention as a teenager. I loved her take on zooming in on something small, like a flower, and magnifying it to abstract proportions, I loved her skyscrapers, painted from human eye view in dizzy converging verticals and of course, her animal skulls.
Summer Days, 1936, Oil on canvas
Back then I didn’t actually draw or paint any skulls. There were plenty of bones in the box of “organic forms” we had in the studio but they looked difficult and I wasn’t confident enough to try. (I wish I had, I’d probably be better at them by now…) I was more taken with emulating the sharp-edged shadows and invisible brush strokes. Sadly, I don’t have any of my O’Keeffe rip-offs as I dropped out and never went back to collect anything, but I’ve got the book. It smells, evocatively, of Daler-Rowney System 3 acrylic paint, it’s tattered and sellotaped together and I could easily just replace it but that would mean the magic would be gone.
From the Faraway, Nearby, 1937, Oil on canvas
Georgia said that “to create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage” and after all these years and many re-reads, I think I’m finally starting to get brave…
Georgia O’Keeffe in 1931, photographed by her husband, Alfred Stieglitz
The book in question is Georgia O’Keeffe, 1887-1986: Flowers in the Desert by Britta Benke
You can buy it HERE