When Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1946, she packed up her home in New York for the last time and moved permanently to Ghost Ranch. She was 59 years old. Having first visited Taos in 1929 with her friend and fellow artist Rebecca Strand, Georgia had already fallen in love with the Southwest and poured herself into painting it. “Well! Well! Well!” she said on first glance. “This is wonderful. No one told me it was like this!” From that year on, she had made Abiquiú her second home, even customizing her Ford Model-A with an easel so she could drive out into the desert alone and paint in the back seat.
A couple of years ago, I was invited to do a commission on site in the California desert. Tucked into the edge of the desolate wilds of the San Jacinto Mountains, Joshua Tree and Mojave Desert National Parks, I felt struck by the strangeness of its arid expanses and silent, purple dusks. The total absence of air pollution, noise pollution and light pollution pulled me into a deeper wonder. My mother encouraged me to return with Peter, and soon we were looking for a suitable studio. On the eve of signing the deed, I let the tears flow, wondering, as I have with every new creative space, if I would be able to be my best creative self there. The question came to me: How much of my work has depended on the dusty loft and emotional and physical friction of New York? I’d been striving for beauty there for fourteen years.
I spent the first six months studying the light in every part of the house — a 1960 post-and-beam gathering shadows, reflected light and soft hues, all changing by the hour, and so ambient and dustless I thought at first my eyesight might be improving. A mockingbird returned my gaze from a lemon tree, and suddenly I missed my dad again. I pictured him in his unfolded plein-air easel-chair beneath an untamed olive tree. An article about forest-bathing consoled me, and I let the grubs wriggle between my toes. “It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things,” wrote Georgia. “Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.”
PS: “The abstraction is often the most definite form for the intangible thing in myself that I can clarify in paint.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)
“There is nothing you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon.” (Matsuo Basho)
Esoterica: “Making your unknown known is the important thing,” said Georgia, “and keeping the unknown always beyond you — catching — crystalizing your simpler clearer vision of life… that you must always keep working to grasp.” As if by osmosis, this new place seems to have produced paintings I could not have known about before — or planned. Umber hills nearby remind me of Georgia’s Taos Mountain and what she felt about the rust red hills of Abiquiú: “It’s my private mountain. It belongs to me,” she said. “God told me if I painted it enough, I could have it.”
Sara Genn: New Paintings opens this coming Thursday, September 13th, 2018 at Voltz Clarke Gallery, 141 East 62nd Street, New York City. If you’re in the neighbourhood, I would love to see you there. https://voltzclarke.com/exhibitions/sara-genn-exhibition/
“The painting is like a thread that runs through all the reasons for all the other things that make one’s life.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)
Do you feel stuck in a rut? Need time to reflect on transitions? Long for an extended art-play date? Join Ellie Harold for a unique expressive art-making retreat for 12 women in colonial San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Re-establish flow in your life through painting, movement, soulful discussion, and a wealth of cultural, visual and culinary delights. (Everyone has their own room!)
Art practice will encourage intuitive use of color and expressive mark-making with emphasis on process rather than technique. Materials provided or you can bring your own.
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