Flowers to Skulls: How Georgia O’Keeffe Prospered Her Landscape

From landscapes to flora to bones, American Modernist artist Georgia O’Keefe enlivened the art world with her otherworldly paintings. 

Portrait of Amanda Lear

Image rights to Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

Looking at Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings makes you feel like being caught somewhere in ether; the enchanting hum of her iteration of nature in a world where reality is blurred into something dreamy. In the artworks exhibiting in renowned art museums, however, linger all the blood, sweat and tears that birthed these pieces.

Born in 1887, it did not take long for O’Keefe to find her niche in art, receiving art lessons at home since a very young age. Showcasing outstanding finesse with her paintbrush throughout her school years, O’Keefe further cemented her technique and aspired to become a professional artist.

“I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.”

To hone her skills, O’Keefe then receive professional art training – on the basis of traditional imitative realism – at the Art Institute of Chicago School, the Art Students League of New York, the University of Virginia, and the Columbia University’s Teachers College. Though she excelled in imitative realism, she felt detached from the genre as a professional painter and thereby took a job as an art teacher and a commercial artist. 

Portrait of Amanda Lear

Image rights to Georgia O’Keeffe Museum

It was not until 1912 when a new world of artistic expression was opened to O’Keefe, during a summer course for art teachers at the University of Virginia. The course was taught by Alon Bement, who acquainted her with Arthur Wesley Dow that led her onto a creative resurgence upon Modernist ideas. Everything felt new – rekindling her aspiration of being a professional artist – as she charted the Modernist ideas in creating new artworks, arranging line, shape and tones into abstract compositions. “His idea was, to put it simply, fill a space in a beautiful way,” O’Keefe explained. 

Her new series of paintings, eventually, caught the eye of Alfred Stieglitz who operated the prominent avant-garde gallery in New York City, 291. There she was catapulted to a higher status – a bona fide Modernist artist – having her works exhibited at a group show, which entailed a solo exhibition the year after, at the 291 gallery. 

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.”

Seeing the blooming potential in O’Keefe, Stieglitz encouraged the rising artist to quit her teaching role for a career as an artist. From then to Stieglitz’s death in 1946, O’Keefe became one of the most celebrated artists in New York, with her works exhibited in 22 shows – solo and group installations – thanks to Stieglitz’s effort in promoting her art. Working closely with each other, the duo fell in love and got married in 1924.

Manifesting the dynamism between the environment and the heart, O’Keefe painted different subjects among her works, from architecture landscapes to botanical wonders. Of her rich palette of works, the flowers were monumental in her establishment as an artist. Abstract, super close-up flowers emphasize the natural forms of nature, and too, reveals her unique way of observing her surroundings.

Portrait of Amanda Lear

Image rights to Tony Vaccaro

To one point O’Keefe needed new stimulation for her works, she therefore went on to an extended trip to New Mexico in 1929. It was in fact a bulb-lightening journey, where inspiration bolted out instantly. To capture the strain of inspirations and the solitude for creation, she started a new pattern in life: she would take annual trips to New Mexico and return to New York to exhibit the new works at Stieglitz’s gallery. Obsessed with the exotic, she eventually moved permanently to New Mexico in 1949. In a new landscape O’Keefe painted animal bones and jagged mountains with a surrealistic touch, which to her unfurled the eternal beauty of the desert. 

“To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage.”

In search for more ideas, O’Keefe’s expedition expanded – flying around the world to Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe – while it inspired her last two major pieces It Was Blue and Green and Sky Above Clouds IV. Her later works expanded massively in size in hopes to capture the vastness of nature, and another prodigious moment in her career. Despite O’Keefe’s passion in painting, her blindness hampered her productiveness and left her no choice but to abandon creating art. Passed away at the age of ninety-eight, O’Keefe’s influence in the artistic movement of Modernism is still relevant today. 

NOIRANCA handbag Amanda in Dusty Rose

Inspired by the iconic floral paintings of O’Keefe, GEORGIA boasts a shape that resembles a flower bucket. Done up in textured PETA-Approved vegan leather, the bag embraces the spiritual growth of women – a much as it embraces the blossoming flowers. GEORGIA further takes handbag architectures to its forefront with its unique shape, just as how O’Keefe brought a new vision to the world with her art.