Georgia O’Keeffe, named after her grandfather George Victor Totto (a Hungarian Count), is one of the most prolific female painters of 20th century America. The Georgia O’Keeffe museum in New Mexico was the first museum in America dedicated to an internationally recognised female artist.
O’Keeffe decided she wanted to be an artist at a young age. However, following an unfulfilling art education she quit. The academic setting required her to simply mimic other painters – something O’Keeffe found boring and constricting.
It wasn’t until she came across the teachings of Arthur Dow that she began to paint again. His radical approaches to art prompted her to paint in an entirely new way. Dow believed that rather than copying nature, art should harmonise line, colour and mass.
Simply put, it should fill space in a beautiful way.
O’Keeffe began creating charcoal abstractions of the Texan landscape. These early paintings depict an artist determined to find her own voice. After sending them to her friend Anita Pollitzer they caught the attention of photographer and future husband Alfred Stieglitz.
In 1918, at the behest Stieglitz, O’Keeffe moved to New York where she began to paint a series of cityscapes. Abstract, modern and utterly original her assured brushstrokes produced angles and edges that appear stoic and hushed.
What do you think you’re going to paint New York for? You can’t do that. The men haven’t been able to, what do you think you’re going to do?
Her impressions of New York express an enduring love of landscape. Paintings like Street, New York I express an utter ambivalence to city life. Devoid of people, the buildings stretch into the horizon like canyon walls.
A forlorn lamp droops in the distance. It is a sombre reflection on city life – one that indicates O’Keeffe’s claustrophobic feelings towards the urban limits of the East Coast.
Cityscapes like Street, New York I express her interest in modernist photography combining abstraction with reality.
Street, New York I,1926, Gift of the Burnett Foundation, © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
-Helen D. Cogswell