At a recent event I was reminded of the artist Georgia O’Keeffe, whom I knew to be American and prominent in 1920s modern art. Sometimes things seem to come back to you for a reason and unexpectedly, I also had Frida Kahlo on my mind, and her Blue House in Mexico. It prompted me to find out more. In the strange way that coincidences come together, I found out on Twitter, in a post I may easily have missed, that these two artists knew and were in touch with each other. I then also found that Georgia O’Keefe was strongly influenced by another favourite artist of mine, Wassily Kandinsky, and a copy of whose work ‘Upward’ hangs in my own home, and this interconnected trail of events led me to find out more about all of these interconnections.
I had learnt previously that both Georgia O’Keeffe and Frida Kahlo’s homes were immensely important to them – as homes of course should be – albeit for different reasons. So then there is the question: does our home shape us, or do we shape our home? How does this then shape our quality of life and how creative we have the potential to become? These two amazing women artists came to their homes in different ways. Frida Kahlo moved back into her childhood home whilst Georgia O’Keefe actively sought the environment and building she wanted to be in, strongly influenced, not surprisingly, by its setting amidst the landscape and nature.
I was originally introduced to Frida Kahlo’s life and art by friends and the 2002 film, and she now seems to feature everywhere. What an incredible artist, and inspiring woman and she now feels strangely omnipresent.
Kahlo recognised how her family home – the Blue House (Casa Azul) in Mexico city – both protected and nurtured her. She was both born and died there aged 47 in 1954. Since 1958 it has been a museum to some of her haunting, unforgettable work and unmistakeable style, inspired by some of the tragic events in her life. Click on these interesting links tell use more about her life and works.
Georgia O’Keeffe was born in 1887 in Wisconsin, studying art in Chicago and New York and by 1910 was exploring more innovative art that – rather than coping what she saw – responded to her feelings and personal interpretation more directly. Moving to New York in 1918 and developing her abstract art, painting it as she ‘felt’ it, not what she saw.
As ‘the mother of American modernism’, O’Keeffe was influenced by many sources. She was said to be particularly inspired by Wassily Kandinsky’s 1910 thinking on modern art in: Concerning the Spiritual in Art, where he asks – amongst other things – what colour would sound like and how this can be represented in art. He saw music as inherently abstract and asked if art could achieve the same thing. O’Keeffee was immensely influenced by these ideas in her use of form, design and colour. Interestingly when searching for more information, I found this which is my Kandinsky print at home, ‘Upward’ (Empor). One thing leads to another indeed.
By the late 1920s Georgia O’Keefe was attracted to New Mexico’s vast landscapes. She set out to find a home in an environment that would inspire and nourish her. She found that at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, which she first visited in 1934s and moved to in 1940, making it her home for some 40 years. She was attracted to the area’s stark landscape, space and light and being amongst nature. Even when in New York, her skyscraper paintings (1925-29) had this connection to nature’s forms, shapes, contours and colours, connecting the built environment to nature in how people live.
Unlike Kahlo, her home is now a museum, but there is a Georgia O’Keeffe museum to carry on her legacy.
Kandinsky (1977 edition: 54) said: “Painting is an art, and art is not vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul – to, in fact, the raising of the human triangle.”
The same, I think, can be said of the power of the home.
Kandinsky, W. (1977, original written 1910) Concerning the Spiritual in Art, New York: Dover Books