Monday, 21 June 2010

Book Review: Georgia O'Keeffe and New Mexico



Title: Georgia O'Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place
by: Barbara Buhler Lynes, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Frederick W. Turner
Synopsis: Beautifully illustrated, the book accompanies an exhibition of the same name at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It reproduces the exhibition's 50 paintings and includes striking photographs of the sites that inspired them as well as diagrams of the region's distinctive geology. The book examines O'Keeffe's work through essays by the three noted authors
Summary review: HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
The landscape of New Mexico is just a strong motif in Georgia O'Keeffe's work as her popular flowers.  This book explores the locations she painted in and analyses her approach to her landscape work in New Mexico.  It provides insight into both the character of the place, the painter and the person.
Highlights
  • extremely well researched - the text is as interesting as the images of the places and the paintings
  • comparisons of paintings with photographs of current geology - identifies how little she changed and what elements she emphasised
  • an example of how to 'see' paintings and distill and strip down to something very simple
  • excellent catalogue of the details of all the images included in the book
  • illuminating essays on different topics by the three authors
  • very interesting explanation of the geology of northern New Mexico and the different motifs in O'Keeffe's landscape 
  • excellent reproduction of images
  • high quality production values evident throughout
Think Again?
  • If you like your landscapes green and verdant this may not be for you
  • the geology does not dominate - but if you're not in the least interested in landforms you may find it tedious
Who should buy this?
  • fans of Georgia O'Keeffe's work
  • artists exploring 'place' in their landscape painting
  • people who love the eccentric landforms and landscapes of New Mexico
Who should not buy this?
  • the landscapes are about the geology of the 'badlands' - and may not appeal to people who like their landscapes lush and green
Authors: Barbara Buhler Lynes, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Frederick W. Turner
(Publisher)Princeton University Press; 3rd edition
Technical data: Publication Date: May 4, 2004
Hardcover (with dust jacket) -  140 pages;
ISBN-10: 0691116598
ISBN-13: 978-0691116594

[  See also my post today about Georgia O'Keeffe's landscapes of northern New Mexico on my The Art of the Landscape blog. ]


When Georgia O'Keeffe first visited New Mexico in 1917, she was instantly drawn to the stark beauty of its unusual architectural and landscape forms. In 1929, she began spending part of almost every year painting there, first in Taos, and subsequently in and around Alcalde, Abiquiu, and Ghost Ranch, with occasional excursions to remote sites she found particularly compelling. Georgia O'Keeffe and New Mexico is the first book to analyze the artist's famous depictions of these Southwestern landscapes.
Princeton University Press

I love books which compare the place 'as is' with the paintings produced by an artist.   I'm also a huge fan of geomorphology and geology so any artist who enjoys landforms always catches my eye.  When they are as accomplished a painter as Georgia O'Keeffe, it would be fair to say I was 'sold' on this book as an idea from the off!

Georgia O'Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place by: Barbara Buhler Lynes, Lesley Poling-Kempes, Frederick W. Turner delivered to my expectations and more.

This exhibition catalogue is a really marvellous example of the homework that went into the 2004 exhibition of O'Keeffe's painting of New Mexico at the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe - Georgia O'Keeffe and New Mexico: A Sense of Place.  I'd have loved to have seen this exhibition but unfortunately paid my visit to the Museum some two years later in 2006.

It's extremely well researched and makes the experience of looking at the paintings that much more rewarding.  The locations were tracked down and photographs were taken of the current geology - at which you point you begin to realise how faithful her paintings are to the contour and how wonderfully she extracts and simplifies to produce her wonderful paintings of New Mexico.

The book also includes three essays by people covering different aspects of her life and work.  All of them bring to life the experience of the environment both as a stimuli and as a context for O'Keeffe's paintings.
  • Barbara Buhler Lynes, Curator of the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum and organizer of the exhibition, discusses the relationship of the artist's paintings to the places that inspired her and how she reduced and simplified forms to abstract the essence of the place while retaining its inherent beauty.  The juxtaposition of photos and paintings is simply stunning.
  • Lesley Poling-Kempes provides a chronology of her years in New Mexico.  She also explains the geology and why there are such intense colours and dramatic shapes within the landscape. As an amateur geologist I found the explanation of the 225 million years of geology in the layers of rocks in the mountains at the back of Ghost Ranch to be absolutely fascinating.   Her explanations of what produced the warm and cool colours will interest anybody who likes to understand the formation of a landscape.
  • Frederick W Turner covers her relationship with the land in New Mexico and her somewhat uneasy relationship with locals around Abiquiu and the art communities of both Taos and Santa Fe.  New Mexico is a place to which many artists gravitate however he recalls that when he and his wife first went to live in Santa fe in the mid-1970s there was never any talk of Georgia O'Keeffe who, at the time, was still living at Ghost Ranch.  He explored what he terms "the wall of silence".  It appears O'Keeffe liked her seclusion, belonged to "another world" and had very strict rules about her contacts with the rest of the world.  He speculates also about how O'Keefge developed a strategy for dealing with painting the landscape of the place she found herself in.  Ultimately he finds himself in awe of her work when faced with the motifs she painted
O'Keeffe's style was like walking out on a rocky ledge, I thought, with no room for misstep: either she would estblish dominion or she'd be defeated and the paintings would be botches in which viewers wouldn't be able to sense what she'd dared.....and whatever your ultimate judgement of O'Keeffe's work work might be, there could be no cailing with the profound sincerity of her engagement, here, the danger of it.  For her this had been no playground.
You can find out more about Georgia O'Keeffe and her paintings in my information site Georgia O'Keeffe - Resources for Art Lovers


You can buy from Amazon UK by clicking the link below.

1 comment:

Michelle Basic Hendry said...

I was looking into this book after visiting the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum. As always, your sites are excellent resources. Thank you for all your great work, Katherine!

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