The art of Georgia O’Keefe is among the most well-known in America, as is the artist herself. She is one of America’s best-loved and most celebrated artists and icons. Her abstract imagery of the early 1920s is among the most innovative work produced in this period by any American artist. She revolutionized the tradition of flower painting by picturing them in close-up, cropped images. Finally she laid claim to the American Southwest when she painted the unique landscape configurations and desert objects (animal skulls, bones, and rocks) of New Mexico. O’Keefe carved out a significant place for women painters in the American art community, that had been dominated by men.
Born in rural Wisconsin, O’Keefe studied at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Art Students League in New York in the early 1900s where she mastered imitative realism. In 1915, she began a series of abstract charcoal drawings that are now recognized as the most innovative American art of this period. These drawings began her career. Ten of these abstractions were exhibited in 1915 by art impresario and photographer Alfred Stieglitz at his famous Gallery 291. From 1923 until his death in 1946 Stieglitz, who was her mentor, dealer, and husband, exhibited her art annually and promoted her constantly.
During the 1920s, O’Keefe increasingly turned to representational imagery with abstract underpinnings, and by mid-decade she had repositioned herself as a painter of representational forms. Whether working abstractly, representationally, or synthesizing these opposite styles, she created a distinctive body of work. By 1929, O’Keefe had exhausted the East Coast as a source of inspiration for her work and traveled to Northern New Mexico and rediscovered her love for this area, first seen in 1917 during a brief visit to Santa Fe.
Three years after Stieglitz’s death, O’Keefe moved from New York to her beloved New Mexico, whose stunning vistas and stark landscapes inspired her work. O’Keefe would paint bleached bones or animals’ skulls in close-up views which recalled her early close-up views of flowers in the 1920s. Her landscape paintings showed the expanse of earth and sky and the red hills, that surrounded her New Mexico home. She continued to work in oil until the mid-1970s when failing eyesight forced her to abandon painting. Although she continued to work in pencil and watercolor until 1982, she also produced objects in clay until her health failed in 1984. She died two years later at the age of 98.
Her art work resides in major museums in the United States. In 1997, the Georgia O’Keefe Museum opened in Santa Fe, and it contains a large body of her work, photographs, library, and archival materials. The Georgia O’Keefe Home and Studio in Abiquiu was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998 and is now owned by the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.