Georgia O'Keeffe and
A Sense of Place
Barbara Buhler Lynes
Frederick W. Turner
(Princeton University Press)
Georgia O'Keeffe certainly had fun with her oils, if we are to judge from the reproductions here. There are the usual O'Keefian conversions of (in this case) mountains and hills into what one of our critics have called the "vulva-ey" parts, such as reproduced here as Fig. 1. But O'Keeffe was not just focused on the groin. "Cedar Tree at Lavender Hill" contains what either might be a knot of wood or a pigeon with its clutch of eggs. "Sand Hill" offers a shy rump and a pair of rustic male nipples. "Black Place III" shows a O'Keeffian record-breaking four-and-
On "Lavender Hill" she's managed to mount three eyes along with a couple of withered breasts. "The Chama" resembles Matisse's naked dancers on the upper walls at the Barnes Foundation. "The White Place" presents a penis or two, "Red Hills" a couple of nice fat knees, and "Red Hills II" sports an embarrassingly shaded pair of buttocks (someone has been sitting around too long!)
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What do the three authors of this volume make of all this? Hard to tell. At least one of them seems quite busily involved in name-
dropping the Santa Fe arts-&- crafts world. In a couple of pages, Frederick W. Turner manages to squeeze in Eliot Porter and "the most prominent critic and historian," John Brinkerhoff Jackson.
There is Mary Lou Aswell [as well] who "discovered Eudora Welty" (who may not have even been lost). John Masters is at the party too, as are the "patrons of American art Gifford and Joanne Phillips." Turner even runs into a tree that "made me think of Willa Cather" ... which is quite a trick if you think about it.
Turner and the Santa Fe art types did meet Georgia O'Keeffe earlier on but didn't much care for her: "It wasn't very pleasant ... The artist had kept her distance." Them rich patron folks can't understand why a painter would high-hat them, as she did (literally) "under the shadow of a broad-brimmed hat." O'Keeffe, you're a jewel. You can tell what a sour-puss she was from the photograph below.
Her art is a jewel, too, at least if we can judge by what Princeton University has reproduced here (although the reproductions are fairly gruesome: O'Keeffe's detail work and most of her dark coloring just don't lend themselves to the print media). Those of us who care for body parts (even eyes riding near the tops of hills, not unlike those on the back of a dollar bill) see her works as funny, a comedia del arte. And like some other artists before her, she delighted in pulling the collective legs of establishment-
climbing critics and snooty patrons --- those who would know great art only if the artists consented to come to tea with them.
O'Keeffe's scorn for the country-club set reminds us of Nabokov and Larkin; the ill-hidden breasts and buttocks in her paintings remind us of the tricks of Samuel Beckett. He regularly planted semi-pornographic lines in the radio plays he wrote for the stodgy BBC.
It leads us to believe that these winter-in-New-Mexico philanthropists were, even after their Drambuies, a prudish lot who would only dare to examine a lovely lady's ass if it came from the brush of Renoir, Seurat, or Gauguin.
--- Leslie Monroe Biddle