Tag Archives: Georgia O’Keeffe

News Flash:Dead Artists Disappear Onboard Train…A-Z Challenge.

 

NEWS FLASH. The World’s Most Wanted… Great Ghost Train Robbery. Masked Artists Hijack Historic Diesel Locomotive.

Central Station, Sydney: Saturday 28th April 6.00am (EST) a gang of masked bandits wielding paintbrushes have hijacked the recently restored 4301 Diesel locomotive, and gone off the grid. Vanished. Forensic experts are clueless, and have found no trace of the robbers at the scene or in the local vicinity. The distraught driver said they were wearing fancy dress with painted bags over their heads, and were all armed with paintbrushes.  The train and four carriages are irreplaceable and valued at over $1million. Anyone with any information, please call Crime Stoppers immediately.

……..

In all my years of writing, and even after attending the Sydney Writers’ Festival for many years, nobody has ever warned me to keep a sharp eye on my characters. Make sure they don’t escape my imagination, and take on a life of their own. Indeed, it’s never crossed my mind. Living so close to the beach, I’ve only ever been told: “Never turn your back on the sea”. It now turns out, that writers can’t turn their backs on their characters either.

DSC_8233

Rosie’s also been doing some painting!

So, I was rather shocked to find out, that my dead artists had escaped and hijacked the historic 4301 Diesel locomotive from Sydney’s Central Station. Worse still, they turned up on our doorstep and lured us along. So, now even my family and I have been swept up in THEIR plot. Indeed, my husband’s driving the train, and they’ve also decided to teach my kids how to paint. Just to add to the mad chaos, someone brought along our dogs (I suspect Andrew Wyeth. They all call him “Dog Man”). Rosie has just chewed up Picasso’s paintbrush. Meanwhile, Lady’s parked herself right next to Norman Lindsay, convinced he’s stashed the Magic Pudding in his suitcase. Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me that Lady would join the pudding thieves. She devoured our Christmas cake one year. However, while we’d save on dog food,  having a pudding that never runs out, would be quite detrimental to her waistline…and my own! Meanwhile, Jackson Pollock has dripped paint all over Alexandros of Antioch’s replacement of the Venus de Milo with the arms back in play. So, now he’s running round the carriage threatening to strangle him, and Zac the dog has joined in for the thrill of the chase.

Above: From Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series.

As if that wasn’t chaos enough, Sidney Nolan is screaming for his therapist. He swears he saw Ned Kelly riding past followed by Constable Scanlon. Meanwhile out the opposite window, Degas was equally convinced he saw the Paris Opera with all of his tutu dancers throwing him roses. Vincent Van Gogh told him “he’s dreaming” and kept painting his sunflowers. All he wants to do is sell a painting. “You don’t know what it’s like to devote your entire life to painting and never sell a work. Humiliating. Still need to pay back Theo.” He was so busy painting, that he didn’t hear how much his paintings are now worth. That selling only one painting, could probably buy a third world nation. Humph. Better keep him painting, and we’ll all be moving into the fast lane.  I don’t know what’s suddenly got into them all, but I’m starting to suspect Degas smuggled some absinthe onboard, and they’ll all soon be painting green angels, each in their own style, of course!

Gauguin The Painter of Sunflowers

Van Gogh The Painter of Sunflowers, painted by Paul Gauguin, who somehow found his way onboard.

By the way, I don’t know where all their supplies have come from, but each artist is very well kitted out and Andrew Wyeth even has a couple of dozen eggs to mix his egg tempera.

What is going on?

What would I know? I’m just the writer, the observer and in any case, I didn’t create these dead artists. I simply wrote them a letter. That’s all. Now, they’ve all escaped the plot and gone rogue. They’re beyond my control. I just hope Constable Scanlon sees it that way if he ever catches up with us, especially with my husband driving the train. What about the kids? The whole family will be heading directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. This is serious. Real life isn’t a game of Monopoly!

Christina Olsen 1947

Been sitting out here with Christina Olsen and Andrew Wyeth. Am I going mad?

Yet, to be perfectly honest, I’ve had a few weird experiences myself, which might warrant some time on the couch as well. Only yesterday, I thought I was sitting on the front step with Andrew Wyeth and Christina Olsen drinking Root Beer, or what I know as Sarsaparilla. Fortunately, they didn’t say anything, which I think is a good sign. It must be worse when they start talking to you, surely! What do you think? Am I going crazy? Have I spent so much time talking to dead artists and sticking my nose in their paintings, that I think they’ve come to life? Or, could it possibly be true? That the doors between heaven and earth, indeed the very doors of perception, have suddenly opened up and let them all out?

I don’t think so. The thing is that everything around here still looks just the same as usual. Indeed, I just made pancakes for lunch, and the dishes didn’t magically fly into the sink and wash themselves. There’s been no mad dance of the pink washing up gloves either. Moreover, the dirty roasting dish from last night is still sitting on the stove. If I was really going off with the pixies, those dishes would be done, the washing brought in and dinner on the table. At least, the leg of lamb is in the fridge, but if I’m to believe the surrealists, it could very well jump out all by itself, and hop over into the oven. Then, we could have dinner with Tom Cruise. Or, better still with Hugh Jackman.

Well, as if all that’s going to happen.

Those dead artists might’ve hijacked a train, but I’m still at home…AND more of a realist.

Anyway, just in case this isn’t a figment of my over-active imagination, if you happen to stray across a runaway train painted goodness knows how with this gang of dead artists onboard, you’d better give me a call. Please don’t call the Police. The way things are going, you might have us both locked up, and Ned Kelly could very well run off with key.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS Eileen Agar’s frantic. Has anyone seen her Ceremonial hat for eating Bouillabaisse? She got into a bit of an altercation with my kids who said she couldn’t wear it while eating meat pies. Someone might’ve accidentally, intentionally launched it and it was rather aerodynamic, which couldn’t be the kid’s fault, could it?

Eileen Agar wearing Ceremonial Hat for Eating Bouillabaisse

Eileen Agar wearing her Ceremonial hat for eating Bouillabaisse. Have you seen it?

 

 

O- Georgia O’Keeffe: Letters to Dead Artists…A-Z Challenge

“I hate flowers – I paint them because they’re cheaper than models and they don’t move.”
Georgia O’Keeffe in Laurie Lisle, Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O’Keeffe, 1981

As you may be aware, I am currently taking part in the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, and my theme this year is: Writing Letters to Dead Artists. The overall concept is to explore the artists who have touched me through a particular work and then pose them a question. They then send me a reply, and even I’ve been surprised by what they’ve come back with, because much of it has been news to me. So, you can make of that what you will.

Today, I’ll be writing to American artist, Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), who has taken me beyond the bustling streets of New York and up into its iconic, soaring skyscrapers which she loved to paint from the ground looking up like teeny Jack staring up at the Giant. I have never been to New York, and yet I’ve sung and danced to the song with absolute gusto  to a band called Paris Dumper at The Nag’s Head, an English-style pub in Sydney’s Glebe. It was always their closing song, and an electric end to a great night out.

So, Frank Sinatra’s New York. New York is the ideal musical accompaniment today.

Please excuse my ignorance, but I only stumbled across Georgia O’Keeffe two weeks ago when I was desperately hunting down dead artists to fill vacant letters of the alphabet for this challenge. I feel a little remiss in not getting to know her sooner. However, my justification is that I’m Australian, and art seems to be a bit of a nationalistic thing. We don’t always get exposed to artists from other countries. Moreover, my poor, overstretched brain also has its limits. You can’t know everyone. That said, one of the things I love about writing, is how my limits are continuously stretching and expanding, hungrily devouring fodder like a starving teen fueling a growth spurt.

Poppy Untitled 1970 oil

Georgia O’Keeffe Untitled 1970 oil.

 

Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986) has been described as “the mother of American modernism”. Yet, within this framework, her subject matter is quite diverse. Indeed, there’s so much more to her, than just her infamous, flower portraits. A few nights ago, I was stoked to stumble across her series of New York Skyscrapers 1925-29. These were painted while she and her famous photographer husband, Alfred Stieglitz, were living in a 30th floor apartment in the Shelton Hotel, one of New York’s first residential skyscrapers. It had a gobsmacking view across the city, and they really were living and breathing the New York vibe. In 1929, O’Keeffe made her first trip to New Mexico, where she made love to the rugged, arid landscape, and it soon became an integral part of herself. After her Stieglitz’s death in 1946, she moved to Abiquiu full-time. She lived there until her final few years, when she moved to Santa Fe where she died on the 6th March, 1986.

“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.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe

That’s the condensed version. You see, I’m keen to continue on our travels, focusing more upon the road less travelled, than regurgitating biographical facts. Indeed, I’m much more interested in getting to know Georgia O’Keeffe the woman instead. I never expected this to be easy. However, when I scratched the surface, she burst into a thousand pieces, which have been very hard to put into any kind of order or structure to create a cohesive portrait. I shouldn’t be surprised, but it would’ve been much less work and mental angst, if she could’ve stayed between the lines.

No discussion of Georgia O’Keeffe is complete without mentioning her husband…the famous photographer, Alfred Stieglitz, who gave O’Keeffe her big break.

Georgia O'Keeffe New York Night

Georgia O’Keeffe, New York Night 1929. I have always marvelled at this little boxes of light through the darkness, signalling somebody’s home and wondered who is there, what they are doing. each box is like an illuminated mystery.

Stieglitz created and managed New York City’s internationally famous 291 Gallery located at 291 Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. While Stieglitz was at the forefront of photography, he also introduced some of the most avant-garde European artists of the time to the United States. These included:  Henri Matisse, Auguste Rodin, Henri Rousseau, Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Constantin Brâncuși, and the Dadaists Francis Picabia and Marcel Duchamp. This was clearly a man who knew his art. Knew his artists, and was very well connected.

Radiator Building-Night NY 1927

In early 1916, Anita Pollitzer, a friend of O’Keeffe’s, showed Stieglitz a series of her highly innovative charcoal abstractions. He found them to be the “purest, finest, sincerest things that had entered 291 in a long while”. In April 1916, Stieglitz exhibited ten of her drawings at 291 without her knowledge. At his request, she moved to New York in 1918 and their professional relationship soon became personal. She was 28 at the time and he was 52. She also became his photographic muse. In 1924, after he’d divorced his wife, they were married. O’Keeffe and Stieglitz were prolific letter writers and exchanged around 25,000 pieces of paper between them…a mind-boggling volume of correspondence, which covered the highs and lows of their relationship.

At this point, perhaps it’s pertinent to mention O’Keeffe’s battles with mental health issues, which were exacerbated by her husband’s affair with Dorothy Norman, who he called ”Dorothy-child.” Yet, despite this apparent confidence, apparently she experienced anxiety all her life. Yet, instead of making it her prison, she went on and did what she wanted to do regardless.

“I’ve been absolutely terrified every moment of my life – and I’ve never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.”

Georgia O’Keeffe

Indeed, I wonder whether she might’ve known Dorothy Parker’s poem: Resume written in 1928:

 

Razors pain you;

Rivers are damp;

Acids stain you;

And drugs cause cramp.

Guns aren’t lawful;

Nooses give;

Gas smells awful;

You might as well live.

I tend to feel this earlier O’Keeffe is almost a complete contrast to the fiercely independent, tenacious woman she became in later life, even before her husband’s death. Indeed, I can almost hear her singing from her grave: I Did It My Way.

georgia-okeeffe with her car

This freedom could best be symbolized by her car, which she adapted into a mobile studio and was a critical necessity for her trips to and from New Mexico. As Carolyn Kastner, curator of the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum explained:

“She would remove the driver’s seat. Then she would unbolt the passenger seat, turn it around to face the back seat. Then she would lay the canvas on the back seat as an easel and paint inside her Model-A Ford.[1]

After all, the heat in New Mexico was intense and she’d paint with the windows down, until the bees became a nuisance and she’d wind them up until the heat became too much and she headed home.

Georgia O'Keeffe Painting in her car at Ghost Ranch New Mexico

Georgia O’Keeffe painting in her car studio at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico.

 

As much as I don’t really like driving, it does provide that sense of freedom, which can really only be surpassed by learning to fly. There’s a huge part of me, which would love to jump in the car and escape somewhere and immerse myself in my writing, photography and possibly even paint. Indeed, playing my violin somewhere out in the middle of Australia’s Nullarbor Desert has a strange appeal, although my preferred escape has been driving a Kombi up to Byron Bay and going for a surf. The fact that I can’t surf or drive a Kombi has done nothing to dampen this dream, although now that the kids are getting older and my health isn’t quite so dire, it’s been awhile since I’ve been indulging in some Kombi dreaming.

I’m sure many of us indulge in some form of escapism, and I guess that’s where TV can take you on a thousand journeys without even leaving your chair. That ease of entertainment, I guess is something to watch out for. Living vicariously through a screen is a poor substitute for living and going on real life adventures of your own, instead of living through someone else.

Speaking of living, I’d better get on with this letter to Georgia O’Keeffe.

Envelope to Georgia O'Keeffe

 

A Letter to Georgia O’Keeffe

Dear Georgia,

A few short week’s ago, I’d barely heard of you, and yet now I’m in raptures. Not just with your paintings, especially your New York Skyscraper series, but with you as a person who was such a strident individual with your own ideas, and yet there was also your marriage to Alfred, with it’s 2500 pieces of paper, the photographs, his affair and then how he didn’t want to sell your paintings. He wanted to keep them all for himself. I’d also love to pile into your Model T with you and drive from New York to New Mexico. I’ve never ever been to America, but there’s something about America and the big road trip which has a certain magic and reminds me of my many trips across Australia’s Nullarbor Plain on my travels between Sydney and Perth. I’d better warn you though. I hope you like having plenty of stops, because I’ve never been an A-B traveller. I always have to stop.

Well, that assumes that I’d be driving the car, which is probably very doubtful. Something tells me that you wouldn’t hand over the keys to your beloved studio on wheels under any circumstances. That said, I think your eyesight started failing later in life so perhaps I would be driving after all.

Georgia, you’re such a woman of contrasts, that it’s hard for me to get my head around the seismic shifts in your works. While my personal favourites hail from your New York Skyscraper Series, my question relates more to the contrast between your mesmerizingly beautiful flower paintings, and the desolate bone paintings who carried out at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. There’s such a gulf between the two. Could you please explain?!!

There’s so much more I could ask you, but this might well be the beginning of our own series of 2,500 pieces of paper. You never know. I have a hell of a lot of questions and who knows, perhaps you might just have a few of the answers.

By the way, did you happen to meet up with Australian artist, Sidney Nolan? I wrote to him yesterday. While I focused on his Ned Kelly Series, about an Australian bushranger, he also did a series set in the Australian outback about doomed Australian explorers, Burke and Wills. I think the two of you should go on a long car trip together and see what you can come up with. You might even what to take along his mate, Russell Drysdale and author Patrick White, although the last I heard Nolan and White had a falling out. However, one hopes those petty earthly squabbles would all get ironed out somewhere along the between heaven and Earth.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Reply From Georgia O’Keeffe

Dear Rowena,

Thank you so much for your energetic letter. I could sense your uncontained enthusiasm in each and every word. Indeed, your unstoppable energy reminded me of myself. No doubt, you also have something of my nervous energy, which was a positive negative force throughout my entire life. It drove me forward. I wouldn’t let it hold me back, but there were those times it overwhelmed me like a wave and swept me under.

Sometimes, I wonder if people don'[t have anything better to do than make up fantastic Freudian interpretations of my paintings, when my thinking was very practical. I painted flowers simply because they were there. They were cheaper than models and they don’t move. Quite frankly, I don’t know how my husband coped handled all those models. Sorry, I wasn’t going to go there. We both know what happened with that wretched Dorothy woman, although more than one of my so-called friends told me I’d got my comeuppance.  You don’t always think of that when you’re a young woman caught up in the throws of passion and you have this incredible, world famous photographer falling at your feet. I was just a girl from a wheat farm in Wisconsin, who was dazzled by the bright lights. That’s all.

Anyway, getting back to my paintings of the animal bones, it was the same as the flowers. The bones were scattered across the landscape and I gathered up a barrel of bones and took them home. This was around the time that they were hell bent on finding the greatest American novel, the greatest American play. Indeed, Superman was created in 1938. America was looking for heroes. This was my cheeky contribution to the quest. You’ll notice the red, white and blue of the Stars and Stripes in the painting.

You see, abstract works aren’t always so cryptic as you might think, and I encourage you to release your inhibitions and preconceived ideas and explore more abstract works for yourself. Find your own meaning, if you must. Or, simply enjoy them for what they are.

By the way, I heard you gave up on art as a child because you couldn’t draw your dog. What a pity. No one should ever give up painting, drawing and expressing their inner world through art. It’s just like dancing, which I’ve heard you’ve embraced now that you’re almost 50 and battling this dermatowhatwhat disease. I don’t mean to be unsympathetic, but why do they give these rare diseases such long unpronounceable names? Humph…dermatowhat what…ther’s subject for an abstract work. How would you paint it?

See, I got you back with a tough question of my own!

Best wishes,

Georgia.

PS Rowena, you don’t need a Kombi to go off the grid and you don’t need to drive to the end of the Earth either. You live in such an inspirational part of the world, surrounded by beaches, the ocean but also the bush. Don’t tell me you have nothing to paint!

Sources & Further Reading

[1] https://www.c-span.org/video/?310650-1/life-artwork-georgia-okeeffe

Wikipaedia

The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

https://www.biography.com/people/georgia-okeeffe-9427684

http://artreport.com/exploring-mental-health-through-art/

Georgia O’Keeffe Exhibition at Tate Modern