The drive from Austin, Texas, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a straight, slow ascent. The road is parched and grey-gold, rhythmically monotonous and echoes old movies. But just beyond Santa Fe something changes suddenly and the landscape reveals itself in a whole different way. The ground erupts into great turrets of red earth, the fast-changing light animates the land and colours take on otherworldly properties. Those with a love of modern art will recognise it instantly: this is Georgia O’Keeffe land.
Georgia O’Keeffe on the roof of her Ghost Ranch home in New Mexico, 1967. Photo by John Loengard.
“As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly.”
“It’s something that’s in the air, it’s just different. The sky is different, the stars are different, the wind is different.” So said the artist upon discovering this corner of northern New Mexico in the summer of 1929. “As soon as I saw it, that was my country. I’d never seen anything like it before, but it fitted to me exactly.”
O’Keeffe was a bold and pioneering woman who became one of the greatest American artists of the twentieth century. She studied art in Chicago and New York but became disenchanted with the status quo and resolved not to spend her life emulating others. She made a radical debut in the art world in 1916 when photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz—who would later become her husband—held an exhibition of her abstract charcoal drawings at his New York gallery, 291. By the 1920s, O’Keeffe was recognised as one of America’s most important and successful artists; known for her abstract depictions of flowers.
Georgia O’Keeffe, My Front Yard, Summer, 1941. © Georgia O’Keeffe Museum/DACS London.
“Here, she [O'Keeffe] drew out a rich existence, painting everything in her path and periphery: faraway mountains and broken bones; the simple lines of adobe architecture; big skies and sagebrush; stunted piñon and juniper trees.”
But she was perhaps boldest in her journeying to “the tail end of earth,” as she described her beloved outpost in New Mexico; spending each summer here before settling permanently after the death of Stieglitz in 1946. For forty years, until her own death in 1986, she lived between Ghost Ranch (a dude ranch when she first encountered it, later given over to the Presbyterian church) and a house in nearby Abiquiú. At Ghost Ranch, she owned her own parcel of the 21,000-acre property (set apart from the main house) and thrived on the isolation. Here, she drew out a rich existence, painting everything in her path and periphery: faraway mountains and broken bones; the simple lines of adobe architecture; big skies and sagebrush; stunted piñon and juniper trees.
Today Ghost Ranch—still owned by the Presbyterian church—hosts tours, workshops and spiritual retreats. While it’s busier than it was back then, it retains its tranquility. People come in search of O’Keeffe or in search of themselves. A guided horse trail will take you closest to O’Keeffe’s adobe home—cared for today by the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, but not open to the public—and to the spots where she would have set up her easel. From here you can imagine the place as she found it, untouched by tourism; a huge empty landscape bursting with soul.
Georgia O'Keeffe, Taos Mountain, New Mexico, 1930. Image via Hood Museum of Art.
“All the earth colours of the painter’s palette are out there in the many miles of badlands.”
Glance in one direction and you see Perdernal Mountain, a flat-topped mesa that O’Keeffe painted over and over; elsewhere you’ll find Gerald’s Tree—an ancient and leafless juniper named after her friend. You see the vivid terracottas, blues and purples of the painting Black Mesa Landscape and the deep jewel tones of Red Rust Hills. Within just one hour you can witness how the light—morphed by fast-moving clouds—shifts dramatically; and how different colours, shadows and rock faces are revealed in turn. You might have imagined that these vivid colours were employed by the painter as a stroke of artistic license, but here they are: hyperreal and humbling.
“The light Naples yellow through the ochres—orange and red and purple earth—even the soft earth greens,” O’Keeffe said to The New York Sun in 1939. “All the earth colours of the painter’s palette are out there in the many miles of badlands.”
Georgia O'Keeffe, Black Mesa Landscape, New Mexico / Out Back of Marie's II, 1930. © Georgia O'Keeffe Museum/DACS, London.
Several Georgia O’Keeffe exhibitions are now touring around the world:
7 December 2016 — 26 March 2017
Kunstforum Wien, Vienna, Austria
Georgia O’Keeffe: Living Modern
3 March — 23 July 2017
Brooklyn Museum, New York City, USA
O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism
11 March — 11 June, 2017
QAGOMA, Brisbane, Australia
22 April — 30 July 2017
Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada
O’Keeffe, Preston, Cossington Smith: Making Modernism
1 July — 2 October, 2017
Art Gallery of NSW, Sydney, Australia
The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum
Year-round exhibits and tours of O’Keeffe’s Abiquiú home
Santa Fe, USA
Year-round tours and trails around the artist’s adobe home
Santa Fe, USA
In Issue No. 1 we meet Australian fashion icon Jenny Kee, translator from Italian Ann Goldstein and French-Cuban music duo Ibeyi. We learn about Ramadan, the Aboriginal ball game Marngrook, the Kiribati dance, the art of pickling, and the importance of home. And we see what it’s like to dress up in Myanmar, live in Cuernavaca, make ceramics from different soil, and walk the streets of Florence.
In Issue No. 2 we meet New York-based Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson, and Croatian painter Stipe Nobilo. We discover how the French protect their language and the way women—all around the world—have used textiles as their political voice. We listen to lovers rock, prepare a boisterous Korean barbecue, venture to go to Feria de Jerez and eat our way around Hong Kong.
In Issue No. 4 we meet Nigerian-born artist Toyin Ojih Odutola, Indigenous Australian Elders Uncle Bob Smith and Aunty Caroline Bradshaw, and Palestinian-American chef and artist Amanny Ahmad. We peer inside the Parisian ateliers Lesage and Lemarié, muse over the iconic lines of European chair design and celebrate the colourful woodblock prints of Japanese artist Awazu Kiyoshi. And we venture along Morocco’s Honey Highway, get lost in the markets of Oaxaca and discover the favours of Ghana.
In Issue No. 5 we travel to the mountains with Etel Adnan, along coastlines wherever waves roll in, and then all over the world through the photographic archive of Lindsay James Stanger. We celebrate hair braiding in South Africa, Salasacan weaving techniques in Ecuador, Vedic jewellery traditions and the new sound of Ukraine. We meet artist Cassi Namoda, choreographer Yang Liping and lace-maker Mark Klauber. And we visit a bakery in Tel Aviv, discover the joys of making arak, and spend a summer stretching mozzarella in Italy.