Do you have a favorite place? What is special about it? Is it a park where you spend summer days? Or maybe you like the view from a high hilltop. Perhaps you enjoy the hustle and bustle of the city. Or do you prefer being inside a quiet room?
For the painter of this picture, Georgia O'Keeffe, the rugged desert of New Mexico was the ideal place to be. She loved the vast terrain, the bright blue sky, and the intense, hot sun. She especially treasured the unusual mountain you see in the distance, the Cerro Pedernal. I've traveled all over the world, she declared, and I don't think there's anything as good as this.
Georgia O'Keeffe American, 1887-1986 Pedernal -- From the Ranch I, 1956 Oil on canvas Minneapolis Institute of Art © Minneapolis Institute of Art/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
The mountains of New Mexico were among O'Keeffe's favorite subjects to paint. The flat-topped Cerro Pedernal, a unique mesa near the town of Abiquiu, fascinated her. She referred to it as her mountain and joked, God told me if I painted that mountain enough, he'd give it to me. Today, many people still call the Pedernal O'Keeffe's Mountain.
O'Keeffe found inspiration in the smaller details of the terrain as well. Bones, rocks, and pieces of wood became subjects for her artwork. Bones, especially, intrigued her: she saw them as beautiful flowers of the desert and symbols of life. This idea so captivated her that she shipped large barrels of bones to her home in New York so she could continue to paint them even when she wasn't in New Mexico.
The flat-topped Cerro Pedernal is a popular tourist destination, especially for those who love O'Keeffe's artwork.
Steven Schroeder, Pedernal, New Mexico, 1999, digital photograph
Key Idea Two
As with her flower pictures, O'Keeffe painted bones close up and larger than life. In Pedernal -- From the Ranch I, we see the mesa through the opening of a pelvic bone. O'Keeffe used the socket of the bone almost like a camera lens, bringing it close to the viewer's eye. This unusual perspective may reflect the influence of her husband, who was a prominent photographer.
The colors O'Keeffe chose are also surprising. Here, most of the bone is a glowing reddish orange rather than the white we would expect. The mesa, in contrast, is a cool blue. O'Keeffe wasn't interested in painting colors exactly as they look in nature. She wanted her work to give a sense of the Southwest, of blazing hot sun and clear blue skies.
After those first abstract drawings, O'Keeffe continued to experiment. Inspired by the natural world flowers, trees, fruits, bones, rocks, the moon and sometimes by music, she painted abstractions in which circles, ovals, and spirals constantly reappear. These shapes can be seen in swirling rose petals, apples, knots in a piece of wood, or a glowing full moon.
You can also find circular forms in O'Keeffe's pelvic bone series. In Pedernal -- From the Ranch I, the circular opening of the socket focuses our view on her beloved Pedernal Mountain in the distance.
Circular forms can be found in art throughout the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Use the search function on Mia's website or visit the museum to search for artworks with circles. Look for circles in art from countries around the world!
O'Keeffe frequently examined natural objects close up and enlarged them in her paintings. Go outside to find a small object such as a rock or a flower and draw it larger than life. How does your drawing of it look different from reality? What details do you particularly notice now that the object is enlarged?
Cowart, Jack, and Juan Hamilton. Georgia OKeeffe: Art and Letters. Washington, D.C.: National Gallery of Art and Bullfinch Press, 1987.
Peters, Sarah Whitaker. Becoming OKeeffe: The Early Years. New York: Abbeville Press, 1991.
Stuhlman, Jonathan, and Barbara Buhler. Georgia OKeeffe: Circling Around Abstraction. West Palm Beach, Fla.: Norton Museum of Art, 2007.
Venezia, Mike. Georgia OKeeffe. Getting to Know the Worlds Greatest Artists series. Hartford, Conn.: Childrens Press, 1994.
Winter, Jeanette. My Name Is Georgia. New York: Voyager Books, 2003.
Although Georgia OKeeffe often lived in isolation in New Mexico, she corresponded with close friends through letters. Sketch your favorite place and then send a to a friend explaining why the place is important to you.
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