This is the second of a five part blog series on the women artists who have inspired the My Muses Collection.
By now, everyone knows I turned 55 at the beginning of January. This particular birthday is all about transitions - transitioning from mother to crone, transitioning back into my studio practice and my art career, transitioning into having older, almost adult, children, transitioning into the second half of my life. It very much feels like a 'crossing the Rubicon' moment. And this crossing from one place to another has left me deeply reflective.
One of the things I've been reflecting on are the women artist who have impacted me in very powerful ways over the arc of my life. It was serendipitous that about a month ago, artist Sergio Gomez introduced a small works challenge and I was inspired to use these women artist's I've been thinking about to create a collection of paintings. The list was quite long at first but I whittled it down to my top five in honor of my 55th birthday. Little did I know when I embarked on this project that I would be taking such a deep dive into my past. I started going thorough photo albums, looking for dates, and trying to remember particular events. The project started simply enough and has turned into a survey of how much life I have already lived and how much art I have already made, AND it has reinforced my passion to continue down my artistic path.
In the first post in this series, I told the story of how Judy Chicago's life and work impacted me. This second post is about my journey with Georgia O’Keeffe.
It started at an art exhibit at the newly opened (1995) SFMOMA. A dear friend and a brilliant photographer, Bob Duncan, invited us to see the Alfred Stieglitz Collection being exhibited there. Most of the exhibit was portraits of Georgia O’Keeffe. I couldn't wait to see them since I had just finished reading her biography by Roxana Robinson. Any date with Bob is a joy and he was a wealth of information about Stieglitz and the art of the photography we were there to see.
(Photo above: 1920 silver gelatin from photographs & writings by A.Stieglitz (1864-1946), National Gallery of Art)
To say I was obsessed with Georgia O'Keeffe would be an understatement. In my opinion, her life is a master class in following your heart, following your art, and painting what is right for you no matter what your critics say. Reading her biography introduced me to what it meant to be a working artist. Her story was like life support given that I longed to be an artist but was still focused on my career as an architect and urban planner. So, when Bob invited us to the Stieglitz exhibit, it was exactly like going to meet my muse!
Bob was an amazing guide. We walked up and down the exhibit together with him explaining the technical aspects and the artistry of each photograph. Halfway down one wall of photographs, a portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe stopped me in my tracks. I was frozen, mesmerized by the image. As I stood there staring at it, I disconnected from my body and floated into the photograph. In the photograph, I stood in front of a flesh and blood Georgia O'Keeffe and she spoke to me. She was loving and stern when she said I needed to get my act together and be the artist I was meant to be. I don’t remember how long I stood in front of that photo. It was Bob's gentle hand on my shoulder that woke me from my trance, and when I woke, my cheeks we wet from crying. That experience was so powerful and I remember it like it was yesterday. The experience inspired me to paint, ‘Meeting My Muse’. That experience also took my obsession of Georgia O’Keeffe into the stratosphere!
Knowing my obsession with Georgia O'Keeffe and having witnessed the experience I had at the SFMOMA, Bob got together with another brilliant photographer friend, Phil Adams, to hunt down that Georgia O'Keeffe portrait and reproduced it. He had it beautifully framed and it hung in a place of honor in my home for years. To this day, is still one of the most beautiful gifts anyone has ever given me. I wish I could say I still have it. Unfortunately, the one box that the moving company lost when we moved to Texas had that framed photograph in it. It's still painful to me that it's gone. It's a sad replacement for the original but I keep a plain photocopy of that Georgia O'Keeffe portrait taped it to the wall in my studio. I can't imagine my life without that portrait of her - staring at me and encouraging me to get off my butt and paint!
After Ron graduated from college and we decided it was time for us to leave San Francisco, the only place I wanted to move to was New Mexico. I’ll give you one guess as to why. Yes, my obsession with Georgia O’Keeffe! I had to live there. I needed to be near her. I wanted to experience the Land of Enchantment for myself. I made it my mission to visit all things Georgia O’Keeffe. I even dragged my dear friend and fellow artist, Caroline Chaperon, on a road-trip all over New Mexico we called, “In Search of Georgia O’Keeffe”.
Ron and I only lived in New Mexico for a year - winter 1998 to winter 1999, though it was a whopper of a year! We got married in a little chapel in Santa Fe, we had our first studio outside of the house, and I was painting regularly. I wasn't quite on the professional artist path yet but the path was strongly pulling me in that direction. I was still working in architecture designing schools and teaching at the University of New Mexico in the architecture department. Little did I know how my time teaching in New Mexico would play a huge roll in my future. Things were definitely shifting. Getting to know Georgia O'Keeffe and that beautiful "land of enchantment" directed me to a different path than the one I was on. Though the part of me that wanted to be an artist and the part of me still believing that I needed to have a "real" career were still battling. By the time we left New Mexico, the courage I needed to travel my artistic path was almost, ohhh so almost, there.
In writing this post, I dusted off the biography of Georgia O'Keeffe I had read all those years ago. With over twenty years in-between, I wanted to glean what she may have to say to me when she too would have been in her fifties.
In 1944, at the age of 57, O'Keeffe had her first major retrospective at the Art institute of Chicago, the first such show to be given to a woman. Two years later, again, O'Keeffe became the first woman to have a major solo show at the MoMA in NYC. In her 50s, she was painting at her peak, interpreting, again and again, the landscape of New Mexico, and receiving notoriety and recognition for her work. During that MoMA exhibit she was quoted as saying, "Exhibitions and critics are interesting, praise is flattering, but all is secondary to the work". Once again, Georgia O'Keeffe was reminding me to follow my artist heart and get busy with my work!
Just as she did when I was in my twenties and thirties, Georgia O'Keeffe continues to be an enormous source of inspiration. Maybe even more so now at this turning point of my life as I am fully committed to my artistic vision just as she was committed to hers.
My love for Georgia O'Keeffe knows no bounds. I feel intrinsically linked to her both as a woman and as an artist. My experience at the SFMOMA with Bob Duncan and that portrait of O'Keeffe marks a paradigm shift in my thinking of what I believed was possible for me. My search for and discovery of Georgia O'Keeffe in New Mexico showed me the path I considered with Judy Chicago but now with the urging of Georgia O'Keeffe, I stepped onto it. Georgia O'Keeffe is my muse supreme and she will always have a special place in my heart. I hope that my path leads me back, someday, to New Mexico, so I can bask in the energy of Georgia's land of enchantment once again.
'Sleeping Goddess' 1999
View the My Muses Collection here.