On last night’s In the Zone, we did a 4th of July salute to American art. Roberta chose to focus on Janet Fish while I went with Georgia O’Keeffe. Both female artists who brought a different spin to traditional representational American art and who demonstrated a love of colour. That’s where the similarity ends though as Fish is a contemporary realist artist and O’Keeffe’s paintings, considered part of the American Modernism period, bring more of an abstraction to them.
Flickr, 6-3-2 (a painting created based on O’Keeffe’s Poppy painting)
O’Keeffe herself summed up her philosophy of art in this, "I have but one desire as a painter – that is to paint what I see, as I see it, in my own way, without regard for the desires or taste of the professional dealer or the professional collector." She held a private exhibition in 1912 and as she surveyed her works, she came to the realization that it had all been created in an effort to please others rather than following her heart. It was then that she decided to begin experimenting more with her art.
A very early O’Keeffe at the Brooklyn Museum, 1916, Titled: Blue #1 (this is one of the few pieces of her work that is no longer under copyright)
O’Keeffe began by using only charcoal on white paper as a limitation so she could focus on technique alone. She started out doing highly abstract drawings. Once she had established a certain style and technique, she started working in watercolours and gradually adding in more and more colour.
Flickr, koiart71, a painting created based on O’Keeffe’s Black and Purple Petunias painting
Eventually, she started painting more recognizable forms but in a way that also reads as very abstract. She became quite fascinated with Modernist photography and incorporated the ideas she found there into her paintings as well creating very large-scale paintings of extreme close-ups of flowers, trees, and leaves or adding optical distortions into her paintings of New York buildings.
Flickr, koiart71, a painting created based on O’Keeffe’s White Flower on Red Earth No. 1
These techniques gave her paintings a quality that was similar to the photographic manipulations being using by the Modernist photographers at the time – similar, I think, to what some are doing digitally with photographs now by manipulating them with Photoshop and other similar software – and yet, O’Keeffe was achieving these results with paint alone. Her ability to blend representative and abstract art in one is what made O’Keeffe one of the most distinctive and innovative artists of her time.
For my demo, I showed how to make these simple little flower pictures inspired by the close-up flowers O’Keeffe painted. To begin, you need a thick white glue. I’m creating these on basic black construction paper but you can do this on a canvas as well and you can choose whatever you want as your background colour. For the glue, I prefer something like the Crayola No Run School Glue http://www.crayola.com/products/list.cfm?categories=GLUE (I get a similar one at Dollarama here in Canada) because it’s nice and thick. You can use Aleene’s Tacky Glue as well but it’s not quite as thick. http://www.michaels.com/Aleene’s%C2%AE-Original-Tacky-Glue%C2%AE/gc0040,default,pd.html
You can lightly pencil on your outline or just freehand it with the glue. Let this dry really well before proceeding. I find it takes a good 12 hours give or take depending on how thick you apply the glue. You can use chalks (just regular coloured chalk such as you would use in school or the chalks that are sold for scrapbooking and rubber stamping) or pastels (soft or oil – the ones I used here were called Water Sticks – they’re very much like pastels but if you add water to them you can get a sort of watercolour appearance to them). I used a combination of both. The pastels work really well to go over the glue outline and to add a little definition to the piece. In places where I got a bit of the pastels onto the actual petals instead of the outline, I left that because I didn’t mind the punch it gave to the flower. For the colours on the petals, I applied the chalks – I found using my finger gave the best appearance.
Check out the Georgia O’Keeffe museum: http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/
Note: I was unable to put any pictures of O’Keeffe’s actual paintings here because that would violate copyright. In general, an artist’s work is under copyright for 70 years after their death. I have instead placed here photographs from Flickr Creative Commons of paintings done by other artists inspired by the works of Georgia O’Keeffe. Please check the link above or do an internet search for Georgia O’Keeffe if you’d like to see some of her actual work.