Georgia O’Keefe was born into the farming life of Sun Prairie, Wisconsin where her appreciation of earthly beauty blossomed - a love that eventually became evident in the many O’Keefe paintings displaying nature’s awesome flowers.
Known to be a very private person, O’Keefe adamantly dismissed the numerous unsubstantiated stories implying a correlation between her personal life and the manner in which she depicted her preferred subject matter – flowers. She is famed for saying, “when you took time to really notice my flower you hung all your own associations with flowers on my flower”. See Georgia O’Keeffe flower prints.
Lost Childhood Perhaps?
Was O’Keefe talking about flowers or herself? As one of seven siblings, it is an ongoing debate as to whether she felt insignificant and valueless as a child, a general assumption based on rumours of early childhood sexual abuse, which might also explain her inclination to focus on the reproductive parts of blossoms.
O’Keefe paintings lure us into the secret world of flowers, which she depicts in gyroscopic proportions as if to scream “see me, see me”. There may be a strong link between the artist’s fascination with the centre of flowers and what seems to be a painful past as an abused child. It is said that such psychological damage would generally result in a typical tendency: an obsession with genitalia or illicit vaginal imagery (although O’Keefe consistently denies the allegations).
If there is some truth to the matter, O’Keefe undoubtedly derived comfort from her ability to reproduce her visions; brush and canvas may have been the ideal tools to erase any misconceptions she might have held of her sexuality. As a note of interest, O’Keefe was unkempt and masculine-mannered, most likely as to not attract male attention. Her muse and later husband, artist Alfred Stieglitz, is said to have helped O’Keefe realise her delicate sexuality and embrace the appreciation she so deserved.
Realism or Not?
It is possible that O’Keefe consciously blocked her sexual abuse from her mind at an early age, and that her unspoken secret spilled onto canvas through symbolism. As concise an argument as it may be, it is still unsubstantiated. And considering other O’Keefe paintings, the evidence of sexual symbolism in flowers appears limited. For instance, ‘White Trumpet Flower’ bears no resemblance to human genitalia. Perhaps as someone who disliked the city, O’Keefe simply found comfort in returning to nature through her paint brush.
After the death of her husband, Georgia O’Keefe moved to the earthy landscape of New Mexico. It has been said that her first large scale painting ‘Petunia No 2’ has a similar flower composition and line to the flowers in Diego Rivera’s ‘The Flower Vendor’. For that reason, should we conclude that Rivera was a victim of sexual abuse?
It seems that O’Keefe’s stunning images of flowers have been dampened with a tale of darkness. Perhaps they should be viewed simply as an appreciation of nature’s beauty. If there is sexual symbolism in O’Keefe’s art, she has given women the pedestal they deserve, of seeing their sex as beautiful and delicate, and as unique as every one of her flower paintings.
About the Author: Jessie Ippersiel has been a fan of Georgia O'Keeffe's work for many years and provides content for georgia-okeeffe.com.
images are in affiliation with Allposters.com.
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