Following more or less a chronological format, O’Keeffe reminisces about those visual experiences, largely related to nature, from which her work stems. Unfolding flowers, fluctuating light on adobe walls, coiling rivers seen from airplanes, bleached bones scattered in the desert—all these images are her characteristic source material. Yet the simple language that the artist uses to describe those experiences can be deceptive. Her words operate on two levels: first, as detailed descriptions of her reactions to the natural world around her, and second, as clues to the alterations and selections that transform that natural world into art.
For O’Keeffe, immediate contact with nature is the touchstone for her art. Yet it is never merely plants, rocks, shells, bones, mountains, and rivers that fascinate her; it is their transmutation by variations in distance, color, angle, and by such immediate circumstances as the time of day, the slant of the sun, and the slightest atmospheric nuance. Added to these natural inspirations are the artist’s own associations, rendering it difficult to separate artistic vision from the personality of the artist.
In O’Keeffe’s paintings, human beings are nonexistent, although occasionally they are suggested by the presence of architecture. Her stark barns, New Mexican churches, and geometric Manhattan skyscrapers are less related to a nostalgia for people than to a preoccupation with the environment that...
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