Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on Georgia.
Texas art teacher Georgia O’Keeffe has only scratched the surface of her creativity when she travels to New York City with a few charcoal drawings to show noted New York photographer Alfred Stieglitz in 1916. He has viewed some of Georgia’s drawings before, encouraging her to continue her work in a series of letters. At the beginning of an extraordinary career, O’Keeffe will change the face of contemporary American art, a fearless artist with an uncompromising vision: “I paint it as I want it to be felt.”
Eschewing the superfluous or decorative, even in her personal style, O’Keeffe pushes beyond the accepted parameters, painting clean lines and color, delving into the essence of a subject. A fledgling voice, that nascent hunger for expression finds an audience in Stieglitz.
His artistic vision complements hers, a shared language binding them in common purpose. Georgia is seduced by “the promise of his vision” and, ultimately, the man himself: ”It was all smashed together back then--art, sex, life mixed into the perfect color, every shadow had a substance, shape and tone.”
Tripp constructs the intense emotional tenor of O’Keeffe’s attraction to a man who has already wooed her in his letters, a woman drawn like moth to flame.
The exquisite melding of creativity and passion inspires her art, her place in the world expanding, part of an intimate group of artists and writers. Time and experience mature her vision, offer new horizons, summers in the country at Alfred’s family home, everywhere inspiration for her painting. Georgia tells the story of two artists in a community of creative people in post-World War I New York City. As time passes, O’Keeffe pushing toward exciting new perspectives, one story becomes two--two versions of the artist: one the woman herself, the other a carefully constructed illusion, groomed for acceptance into the art world and a gradual unveiling of her work.
O’Keeffe is introduced to the New York artistic community at Stieglitz’s discretion, first though a series of nude photographs (her face cropped) included in a show with other work; later, a carefully selected few of Georgia’s paintings added to a gallery showing of favored artists. Hearing the responses, O’Keeffe begins to understand that associating herself to Stieglitz has tied their work as well, reviews of her paintings marked by gender separation, the sly patronization that accompanies observations of a woman’s art. Georgia has reached a painful crossroads, her identity as an artist at risk of misinterpretation and compromise, the couple’s harmonious voices suddenly slipping into dissonance, unwilling to acknowledge the growing fissures in their foundation.
Artistic visions propelling her toward unexplored landscapes, O’Keeffe craves the solitude of work, quiet in the midst of chaos, accepting--albeit sometimes chafing
at--the complicated relationship with Stieglitz and its conventions, but always seeking that which feeds her soul: the vast blue sky, a shining star in the blackest night, a painting stripped to its essence, nature’s bountiful feast and ever-changing palette, the siren call of a creative mind never at rest. Despite the genius of his photographs, the purity of his eye, Stieglitz is predictably male. The photographer is revitalized when O’Keeffe enters his life, a period when he is “the most certain, virile and alive.” Quietly guiding Georgia’s path, he shapes the contours of her future, so enamored, so blinded by his mission and conviction that he is unable to bear her absence, weak and flawed. He fails to understand. After all: “he is just a man whose sunlight is behind him”.
Each phase of O’Keefe’s artistic evolution, her relationship with Stieglitz, and the inner voice that drives her work are perfectly rendered through the writer’s incisive eye:
the urgency of an artist’s vision, the translation from imagination to painting, the subtle shades of inspiration and emotion, the intensity of oils, the sly transparency of watercolors, love’s essence impossibly entangled with art, promises bruised then broken, betrayal slashing through the heart of a covenant, a woman forced to choose:
A life is built of lies and magic, illusions bedded down with dreams. And in the end what haunts us most is the recollection of what we failed to see. O’Keeffe tells her own story, claims that definition of self without apology. In prose as arresting as the artist’s images, Tripp breathes life into O’Keeffe’s time among us, illuminating this indestructible and singular artist in language crafted as carefully as the artist’s brushstroke across a clean sheet of paper.
Click here for
Luan Gaines' interview with Georgia author Dawn Tripp
Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2016