O'Keeffe was very much drawn to the abstract - and abstracting aspects of the flowers. She explores the elements of colour, shape and texture of the objects she paints. Which of these is most dominant seems to depend on the individual flower. She was preoccupied with simple forms from the very beginning and her earliest flower paintings. Colour is often bold, frequently carefully modulated but tends to come across as somewhat 'flat'.
In "Oriental Poppies," O'Keeffe depicts two giant poppy flowers. Measuring 30" x 40", this oil painting is an explosion of brilliant colors on a vast canvas, lending a mesmerizing effect. O'Keefe used dazzling red and orange as the main color of the petals. The hollowed centre and the inner contours of the flowers are painted in deep purple. The skillful shading and velvety finish of the petals accentuates the vibrancy of the flowers. "Oriental Poppies" almost looks like a close up photograph. O'Keeffe did not give any background to the painting, to artfully draw focus onto the flowers. The absence of context in the painting presents them in a new light as pure abstracts. "Oriental Poppies" exudes a startling pull, as if casting a hypnotic spell on the viewer.
Georgia O'Keeffe believed that due to the fast-paced lives people live, they merely glance at flowers, but never really observed their exquisiteness. She wished to give such rushing people experience and the feel of the true beauty of flowers. In her words,
Georgia OKeeffes ability to capture beauty that often went unobserved led to her receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts as well as election to the American Academy of Arts and Letter.
Anyone who doesn't feel the crosses simply doesn't get that country.If I could paint the flower exactly as I see it no one would see what I see because I would paint it small like the flower is small. So I said to myself - I'll paint what I see - what the flower is to me but I'll paint it big and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it - I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers. ”
Oriental Poppies is now a part of a collection at the University of Minnesota Art Museum, Minneapolis.
She had married Alfred Stieglitz, the champion of much of American modernism before and during World War I. He had sanctified every last cranny of her person in a long and celebrated series of photographs. She had lived for much of her life in surroundings of unflawed natural beauty, and she had proved that a woman could live and work on her own in remote places and be the stronger for it.
And strong she was, in many ways. In the catalogue of the present show there is a letter she wrote in February 1944 to Eleanor Roosevelt, who had lately come out against a proposed constitutional amendment for equal rights. It was, she wrote, ''a basic idea that would have very important psychological effects on women and men from the time they are born.''
''It could very much change the girl child's idea of her place in the world,'' the letter continued. ''I would like each child to feel responsible for the country and that no door for any activity they may choose is closed on account of sex.''
Yet ''I am not a 'woman artist,' '' she said, more than once. Still, there was no way for her not to be perceived as a person of great distinction who was also a woman. Much as she disliked it, there were also people around who thought of several of her favorite motifs in terms of gender. ''No man would see them that way,'' they said.
In 1922, for instance, Paul Rosenfeld wrote that ''the essence of very womanhood permeates her pictures.'' And in 1927 Lewis Mumford - as telling a critic of art as of architecture - said: ''she has beautified the sense of what it is to be a woman; she has revealed the intimacies of love's juncture with the purity and absence of shame that lovers feel in their meeting.''
With reason, O'Keeffe had what she called a ''queer feeling of being invaded'' when she read remarks of that sort. But she must have liked the Mumford piece, since she reprinted it in the catalogue of a show of hers in 1928. Looking at the Met's own ''Black Iris III'' of 1926, it is difficult not to read into it a Mumfordesque meaning. Nor is it the only painting in the show in which O'Keeffe's bees-eye point of vantage has intimations that are as much erotic as botanical.
Everyone has always known that, and it has been an element in the American imagination ever since Martin Johnson Heade got fired up about orchids in the 1870's. But O'Keeffe had a way of crowding us and blowing up the blooms, as if with a bicycle pump, until they take on a look of calendar art. There is in those images a shiny, relentless, one-size-fits-all quality that in this critic's opinion is just not good enough for the Georgia O'Keeffe who had once given a new dimension to American modernism.
Those landscapes also give one pause. With the passage of time, they look more and more the makings of a high-class tourist brochure and less and less like a contribution to high art. The facts of nature are set down, and very peculiar some of them are. But they are not transcendent. In fact, we realize all over again that great art has never been made out of spectacular, let alone from freakish, natural beauty.
And there is in great art a transformative element. We get that in O'Keeffe's very first (1917) watercolors of subjects from New Mexico. But the longer she lived there, and the more deeply she identified with the landscape, the more purely picturesque the paintings seem to have been. Georgia O'Keeffe the human being deserved better.
''Georgia O'Keeffe: 1887-1986,'' which is to open tomorrow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will run through Feb. 5. The show was sponsored with a grant from the Southwestern Bell Foundation. Jack Cowart, Juan Hamilton and Sarah Greenough worked on the catalogue, which costs $50 in hard cover and $25 in paperback and includes 125 letters from O'Keeffe that make very good reading. Drawings by Mel Bochner David Nolan Gallery 560 Broadway (at Prince Street) Through Dec. 10
Though still only 48 years old, Mel Bochner has been a presence on the scene, both here and in Europe, since 1969, and has never failed to present abstract and long-distilled ideas with a purity and a simplicity that have lately set him apart from the trends of the day.
He has, however, mastered an apparent ease of hand and arm that now results in an unforced grandeur of presentation. Fired in part by a long sojourn in Rome, he explores in his new show the notion of cubes in orbit. Tumbling and whirling as if for all eternity, they are sent on their way by a format that in itself seems to have a circular motion, anchored only by a central square that is left blank. Most often transparent, the cubes cast shadows that mimic and duplicate their flight.
Several of the drawings are buttressed by tall panels of subdued color that keep up a relationship of their own as they, in their turn, seem to tread an invisible mill. And at least once, in ''Fall Out,'' something of the glorious extravagance of Roman baroque seems to be hinted at as flat form and cubic form dispute as to which can fly highest. Joe Stefanelli Cyrus Gallery 11 East 57th Street Through Nov. 26
Joe Stefanelli has for a long time had the gift of color that sings out in tune. He also has a gift for figure subjects that lead an exuberant and idiosyncratic life of their own. They are brushed in, moreover, with the kind of assurance that comes of long practice and an unfailing delight in the task in hand. Even the titles put us in a good humor.
His new show bears all this out. Paintings like ''Dominant Horus,'' ''Aegean Dialogue'' and ''Dante's Choice'' are about our own day, in their felicities of handling, but they also come wreathed in echoes of myth and legend. It makes a very winning combination.Continue reading the main story