Georgia O'Keefe

Georgia O'Keefe was an American artist born in Wisconsin in 1887. She died in 1986 in New Mexico where she moved in 1949 to make it her permanent home. O'Keefe is often attributed as being the Mother of American Modernism.

O'Keefe decided at the young age of 10 that she wanted to be an artist. She pursued that avenue throughout her school career. It was through this avenue that led O'Keefe to temporarily abandon her desire to be an artist. During her schooling, she was trained in the mimetic tradition, which is to mimic or imitate. After studying this method, O'Keefe decided she could not meet that standard. She did not paint for four years after that time. She even went so far as to say the smell of paint made her sick. Her underlying fear was that she would not be able to distinguish or set herself apart from the other artists of the day.

It wasn't until O'Keefe was exposed to the innovative ideas of Arthur Wesley Dow that she learned about the idea of expressing herself through line, color, and shading. He later had a great impact on O'Keefe's understanding of the process of making art. During her time of doubt, O'Keefe began teaching in the panhandle Texas town of Amarillo. While teaching, O'Keefe would often visit Palo Duro Canyon in New Mexico. This became a central focal point of much of her later work.

Some of O'Keefe's work brought her name to recognition when charcoal drawings were exhibited at 291 in New York by future husband, Alfred Stieglitz. O'Keefe had been impressed by Stieglitz when she attended an exhibition at 291 years earlier but she did not get to know him personally until 1916 when she was in New York attending the Teachers College. Some scandal surrounded their union because Stieglitz was still married when he and O'Keefe commenced their relationship. Four months after his divorce was final, they were officially married. Stieglitz was 23 years her senior.

Although Stieglitz was a photographer, he had a circle of friends that exposed O'Keefe to many modern artists. After this exposure and overcoming the Pandemic Flu of 1918, O'Keefe switched to oil paint from watercolors. At about this time she also began her unique style of painting topics with an up-close focus as those the subject of the painting was being seen through a magnifying glass. Her first and one of the most known that falls into this category is Petunia No. 2. Additionally, there City Night and New York-Night were also created.

O'Keefe lived a long life until the age of 98 but her art was compromised years earlier through macular degeneration. At one point, she abandoned oil painting all together. She held to drawing and charcoals until that too became difficult. She did embrace some clay work later in her life and received two distinguished awards - The Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977 and the National Medal of Arts in 1985.