September 10th 2016
Joined study visit to the Georgia O’Keefe exhibition at Tate Modern, meeting the other students and the visit tutor Bryan Eccelshall outside the exhibition at 11.15 . Bryan gave us a quick few pointers and things to be thinking about whilst viewing the work.
The exhibition was quite busy, so it was kinder to all to go in separately, occasionally bumping into each other and our tutor as we walked round.
The exhibit was set out chronologically, the first room some of her earliest works, charcoal drawings and watercolours, abstract shapes and explorations. This first room had also been decorated and hung in the same way has her first solo exhibition in 1917, with a black pelmet of fabric hung from a small shelf a third of the way up from the floor.
I was first struck by a watercolour Blue Hill 11. I was drawn to the gaps between the paint and this became the theme for me with each further room.
Amongst the charcoal drawings in this first room were several with what were to become some of her signature shapes including swirls and sweeps.
Taking notes as I went, I found this to be the first time I felt drawing as I went would also help me retain the feeling of the exhibition.
Two charcoal drawings which had been paired in the hanging although a few years apart, were ‘No14 Special ‘and ‘Black Lines’. I have written that I felt No14 “doesn’t feel as if it belongs with the others”. It was full of angles and very dark. As the strength of the line in Black Lines also felt heavier than what was to become her soft style. As these were done in 1916 and 1919 respectively, they would be part of her exploration in early days of finding her own voice.
The next room was looking at Abstraction and the Senses. Here I was taken with pink and Blue No1. The beautiful organic shapes and the gentle blending of the oil colours strike you first but the more I looked the more it felt the need to see through the hole into the blue. Again being drawn to the gaps. If you look closely there is a small deep pink shape here which also draws the eye.
Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings look at the connection between music and shapes. If you try to move your had to the shapes you can feel this rhythmic quality.
There were photographs by her partner, Alfred Stieglitz alongside her work, illustrating the influences between them. When they lived together in New York, her cityscapes echoed his photography. Again for me however, I was taken by the spaces created in her painting, particularly in New York Street with Moon.
Although the building shapes are strong, the vast piece of negative space is the dominant thing in this painting. The lamp light and the moon pull you back and forth between the street and the sky.
Flowers and Still Lifes
Although these paintings are the best known or maybe because I have seen some of these before, they held less interest for me. They do have beautiful colour, and lovely gentle blending of the oil paints and seeing them full size does give another dimension to them as opposed to seeing them flattened on a screen or in a book. The curves and waves are a repeated form as in the abstracts, but once again I noticed the negative spaces.
Standing in front of the original the very dark green area pulls the eye
Gaps, negative spaces and being pulled into areas was further illustrated by her paintings of the ranch where she lived. Often the pictures barely recognisable as buildings, but abstracted and focussing on the windows and or doors.
The intense blue takes you in, past the cross.
Her landscapes of the mountains where she lives are abstracted images of the mountains and appear almost smoothed out versions, the edges all rounded and the ridges looking more like flowing ripples.
- Curves, gentle waves,
- Repeating work on the same shape/view/object – exploring something over and over
- Gaps/negative space, being pulled through a space or hole
- Gentle, smooth blending
All of the above aspects I picked, from viewing her work point to meditation and calm that, were part of her personality and perhaps also come from living in a wide open space and being happy with solitude.
Reflecting on my experience of the visit, I noticed that I am beginning to look at work with a more critical eye, gaining a little more confidence in my opinions which stems I believe from his being my second module with OCA. These study visits help enormously and it is a pleasure to meet other students and talk together. Seeing the work actual size and up close shows us so much more. How the paint is worked, the colours, and the brush strokes can alter opinion of the piece when seen for real. There is so much talked about Georgia O’Keefe’s work being/having sexual overtones, but seeing the work in an exhibition such as this gives lie to that . It is feminine, definitely, but due to the gentleness of the curves and shapes and softness of the blending of colour. I also found it calming and rhythmic. Maybe time has taken away any “shock” value there may once have been in peoples minds when making connections.