Turning to O'Keeffe During a Pandemic

For over the past year, I've become increasingly interested in Georgia O'Keeffe. If you are not familiar with her artwork, she was a painter who resided much of her life in Northern New Mexico and she was famous for painting close-ups of flowers, New Mexico landscapes, as well as the architecture from New York. She lived from 1887 to 1986 and was married to photographer Alfred Stieglitz. I'm going to write most of this post as if you are familiar with her artwork, so if you click on the link above, you will get a good sense of who she was.


Being from New Mexico, and growing up seeing O'Keeffe's work everywhere, you kind of take advantage of the gorgeousness, the simplicity, and the true impact of her work. I think her artwork is to be appreciated by adults; there's something very refined about it. When I first began reading about her at the beginning of last year, I was mostly trying to understand what her work was all about. She came to New Mexico and almost immediately identified with the place. My pride of being from here got in the way at the time of reading this to understand fully what she meant. What became fascinating is that the pandemic hit/is still here, and I've been living a more isolated lifestyle and it's forced me to look at every detail of the place. I feel like I'm finally seeing New Mexico in O'Keeffe's eyes.


In the pre-pandemic world, I was always on the go, applying to markets, going to my suppliers, doing trunk shows at local boutiques to promote my work. When you have a set schedule like that, it's almost like you're so focused on the future that it's hard to see what's around you. It happens too when I'm gearing up to go on a trip. I'm dreaming about another place, doing research, and just not really being present. This year, I stayed in my neighborhood, took walks every morning, and I finally got to live in each season and appreciate the changes. The rebirth of Spring, the buzz and bright colorful sunsets of Summer, the whipping winds of Fall, and the sleepiness of Winter, it all played out so beautifully before my eyes.


O'Keeffe was particularly smitten with one mountain named the Pedernal, and she painted it constantly from different angles and in different lighting. She also collected bones and painted those juxtaposed against the landscape, occasionally with flowers. I started actively searching for the bones of my desert area, and we don't have many animal bones in the area, but we do have cactus bones from the local cholla. The cholla cactus is a very interesting cactus which has a kind of flesh/plant exterior and when it dies, it leaves behind a wooden structure. I began gathering those, getting flowers from my local grocers, and using them in my photographs. The photographic composition was both influenced by O'Keeffe, but also by our roadside sanctuaries, or descansos, to honor those who've passed in car accidents.


Top left: Georgia O'Keeffe, "Rams Head, Blue Morning Glory," 1938 (photo from okeeffemuseum.org).

Top Right: Roadside descanso from Pilar, NM. (photo from pittsburghorbit.com).

Bottom: Photo of my recent Morning Sky Earrings.


Since I've been getting into enamel, the technique really compliments my love for New Mexico, and I feel like I'm yet again hanging on to the words and ways of Georgia O'Keeffe. There really is something so picturesque about the landscapes, about the ways in which the light hits the terrain from different angles each season, about the brilliance of the colors of the desert flora and skies.


I think what’s most important about O’Keeffe and why I identify with her stronger than other artists from New Mexico, is that she was a transplant. I’ve been here all my life, but many New Mexicans have ties that go back many generations and so their art reflects something that’s more traditional and is passed down by their ancestors. O’Keeffe‘s view the world was on a more personal level, rather than something which was passed down to her. She creates her own world, is the first of her family to arrive (and the last), so she forges her own aesthetic. Because of this, her work stands out. Growing up and living in New Mexico, you are initially influenced by the traditional art, but then when you’re exposed to O’Keeffe you begin to see what you’re actually living in. She takes your surroundings and turns them into art, and then they hang on walls to help you understand the beauty of the place.


I haven’t yet fully expressed my love of New Mexico in the form of jewelry mostly because I didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. The enamel felt like the obvious solution to this problem. I can paint, I can move granules of enamel/glass on my metal canvas to portray the feeling that I get every morning when I wake up and see what’s outside my window. There’s usually a display of intense clouds dancing across the Sandia Mountains juxtaposed against a colorful sky. I’ve always felt like the New Mexico skies practically begged to be turned into art, and I love that jewelry gives you a sense of home. Located in the American Southwest, New Mexico still has characteristics of unruliness, but there’s something welcoming about the place. It invites you to expand your mind, to reach into your own creative journey, and to take time to be silent and in the moment.

My most recent work is all about that. Looking up and out and being in it all, and appreciating the beauty around you. This pandemic, if anything, should’ve taught us to take in our surroundings and to fully understand their worth to us and to our identities. I feel like I’m just on the cusp of it all, just at the beginnings of this journey, but it did take a whole year to force me to sit down with it and embrace it all.

But I definitely needed the guidance of O’Keeffe to show me the way.



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