Visitors will see several galleries that include O'Keeffe’s tools, her line sketches and her more elaborate paintings. Infrared studies of some of her canvases also help to show how her drawings provided the foundation for her works of art.
Those works, Lynes said, have a certain look about them.
“It all reflects her aesthetic: very simplified, elegant forms that relate to one another, either abstractly or realistically. She uses them when she’s painting recognizable forms and she also uses them when she’s painting abstract forms,” she said. “They always come together in similar sorts of arrangement, and because of that, you always know you’re looking at an O'Keeffe.”
The curators acknowledge that many of the works in “O’Keeffiana” would not be part of a traditional exhibition, but this show is more about discovering the painter’s process than celebrating what has become a worldwide fascination with her monumental flowers and sweeping vistas.
O’Keeffe worked differently from many other artists, Lynes said. For example, Renaissance painters would often stray from their original under drawings, repositioning elements of their paintings as they went along.
“O'Keeffe usually doesn’t do that,” she said. “It’s interesting. It tells you she knew exactly what she wanted to do.”
Part of the inspiration for the exhibition comes of another exhibit Kastner put together while working in San Francisco. That show highlighted the work of a photographer who captured artists working in their studios. He had become friends with them and often stayed long enough that they forgot that he was there.
“I thought they were beautiful photographs, but people thought they were windows into a studio. People were fascinated to see artists in their studios, and I began to realize this is a place most people don’t get to see,” Kastner said.
There are very few photographs of O'Keeffe working in her studio or out in the wilds of New Mexico. However, the museum does have images of her studio, and on the window sills were an ever-changing cast of rocks and bones she used as subjects.
“There’s a quote about her infinite interest in natural color and shape and how it represents the wideness and wonder of the world she lives in. I think she was a student of that her entire life,” Kastner said.
Both Kastner and Lynes consider the exhibition an invaluable look at the artistic practices of one of America’s most important painters _ practices that were consistent throughout O'Keeffe’s career, from her early work in 1916 to her last abstractions in the late 1970s.
“We can’t conjure a whole person out of this exhibition,” Kastner said, “but we can see the trace of her action on paper and canvas.”
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