I was in Santa Fe this week, for meetings at the terrific and provocative Santa Fe Institute, and I popped into the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum for the umpteenth time. One luxury that comes with repetition is the chance to catch an element that you’ve overlooked before, and this time, thanks to the curators, I came to focus on O’Keeffe’s concept of framing.
The artist had a famous ambivalence about Lake George, where she spent a number of years with Alfred Stieglitz. In letters she often noted the oppressive beauty of all that green in upstate New York, longing for western wind and skies. In fact, her pelvis series originated when she took a “barrel of bones” back east from the desert:
The first year I was out here I began picking up bones because there were no flowers. I wanted to take something home, something to work on … When it was time to go home I felt as if I hadn’t even started on the country and I wondered what I could take home that I could continue what I felt about the country and I couldn’t think of anything to take home but a barrel of bones.
What I had not noticed before is the framing function of these bones, how in many of her paintings they slice through the endless landscape, not floating in the vastness, but rather giving it shape and focus. O’Keeffe notes:
…when I started painting the pelvis bones I was most interested in the holes in the bones – what I saw through them – particularly the blue from holding them up in the sun against the sky as one is apt to do when one seems to have more sky than earth in one’s world … They were most wonderful against the Blue – that Blue that will always be there as it is now after all man’s destruction is finished.
This has me thinking, what is the opening through which I see the endless sky? It’s sometimes a fine line between focus and blindness.
What if I shift that opening, just a bit?
What if I look again, when the light has changed?
* O’Keeffe’s Pelvis Series, 1947 and 1945, via Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. More in her own words can be read in this essay published at Momus.