A single luscious iris is painted in exquisite detail. The bleached skull of a deer is suspended in a soft blue sky. The desert dunes are stretching out in earthy reds and rich browns.
These are a few of the favorite images of Georgia O’Keeffe, one of America’s most celebrated painters in the past century. In life, O’Keeffe was one of the most controversial and enigmatic people of her time, but her work reflects an almost minimalist approach to painting.
Today, take the time to explore O’Keeffe’s fascination with the bleakest places in America, and you may grow to understand the beauty she discovered amidst the desert dunes.
The desert was where O’Keeffe flourished as an artist, and her fascination with their bleak vistas was heavily present in her work. Reproduction businesses and printing services in places like Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona are all probably well aware of her work. To understand why O’Keeffe found such beauty in the driest and most inhospitable places in America, you have to look back at her life.
O’Keeffe was born and bred in New York City, one of the busiest metropolises in the world. In its bustling streets, O’Keeffe studied the arts and, in time, began to create her own. And she was prolific. From oil painting, she transitioned to charcoal and watercolors, even exploring photography.
She lived in social circles steeped with new thoughts and explorations. Her husband owned an art gallery, and she was in regular contact with artists from all over the world. Perhaps it was because of this incessantly cosmopolitan environment that O’Keeffe decided to escape. Feeling oppressed artistically and socially, O’Keeffe chose to travel to New Mexico for inspiration.
And its in the barren dunes and sun-blasted crags of that state that O’Keeffe discovered the beauty of nature.
The Desert and the Artist
O’Keeffe would spend two decades traveling back and forth between New York and New Mexico. And it was during her time in the desert that she perfected the characteristics of her work.
She loved nature, and her most recognizable works all feature natural components. Sometimes they’re the sensual petals of an iris or the somber image of an animal’s skull, but mostly, it was the desert. The flowers are growing on the red sands of a dune. Or the skulls are floating before an array of magnificent rock formations. However, the desert was never far away from her work.
Perhaps because she grew up in a populous community, O’Keeffe didn’t like putting people in her work. Painting desert landscapes and the extreme close-ups of flora that persisted in them gave her plenty of reasons to express the solace she enjoyed in them.
O’Keeffe also adored intense colors: dazzling blues, vibrant reds, and glaring yellows. The arid wastes of New Mexico were rife with these blazing hues. The blue of a cloudless sky, the burning red of the rocks, and the blinding yellow of the sun gave her all the color she needed and loved.
Such was O’Keeffe’s love of the desert that when she passed away in 1986, she requested that the ashes of her earthly remains be scattered on Pedernal Mountain, a rocky peak in New Mexico. Today, her paintings still reflect the solemnity and peace she found amidst the desert dunes. So if you’re searching for those two things, look no further than the works of this great artist.