Georgia O’Keeffe, Critical Studies

Georgia O’Keeffe was an American painter famous for her huge paintings of flowers, showing their intricate details. Her work was initially discovered in 1916 after taking a four year break from painting. Although her paintings are figurative, she developed her style from European Abstraction and Pictoralism, which were both popular at the time. This is evident in her work, which utilises soft focus and gentle brush strokes. It is also shown through her use of colour and tone, which depended on light and how the subject made her feel, giving her paintings rich tones and vivid colour. Her style is a mix of realism and abstraction which gives her work her unique style, while still preserving the representation of her subjects.

I discovered O’Keeffe’s work when studying natural forms at GCSE level. I was given a list of female artists to study and Georgia O’Keeffe really stood out for me. I loved her bold floral works, but more than anything else, it was refreshing to learn about a female artist as we seemed to only learn about male artists like Picasso or Van Gogh. I felt like I could relate to her work as the forms were familiar and colourful, but also had an aesthetic appeal that I had not been exposed to before.

What inspires me about O’Keeffe is that, although she nearly gave up art entirely, she persevered and tried different methods of creating beautiful pieces to become the well-known artist she is today. She is a feminist icon and known as the Mother of Modern Art, which is an amazing feat in itself in a field where women were the minority. I loved learning about her work as it opened my eyes to a whole range of female artists that I never would have known about such as Tamara de Lempicka and Frida Kahlo.

There has been a lot of speculation surrounding her floral works, as people suggest that these flowers are meant to represent female genitalia. This is interesting as plants have both male and female sexual organs. It is almost like trying to associate the flowers with a certain sex, when flowers themselves are not usually one sex. O’Keeffe denied this about her work, saying that she took her time to paint what she saw and that people were pushing their own associations onto the piece and forcing a meaning. This is extremely interesting as it shows how subjective art can be and how different people can have different views and opinions of work. This divisive view on O’Keeffe’s work is a prime example of how an audience tries to find meaning within an artist’s work, and how this can differ from the artist’s aims and intentions when they create their pieces.

Controversy aside, Georgia O’Keeffe’s beautiful floral work is what inspired me to study Fine Art at A-Level and create figurative paintings. She created a vast collection of paintings in a period dominated by men and non-representational imagery, an achievement which I find incredibly inspiring.