Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on Georgia.
By the end of Tripp’s fascinating story, I had been moved to tears several times--tears of sadness for the pain and suffering as well as tears of joy and appreciation for the love and grace that echoed throughout. The book begins in Abiquiú, New Mexico,
with the charcoal abstractions that Georgia makes for the renowned, brilliant Alfred Stieglitz, whom many consider to be the father of modern photography. As the novel opens, Georgia is only
27 and \ scraping by as a schoolteacher, living hand to mouth with her younger sister, Claudie.
Driven by a relentless passion for her art, Georgia sends her charcoals to Stieglitz’s gallery in New York. Their correspondence, beginning shortly thereafter, is filled with passionate ministrations. Soon Georgia is writing to Alfred about the things she can’t say to anyone else: her ideas about art, how sometimes she’s so full of shapes and colors, and how she’s constantly trying to understand the light and the flow of “an abstract shape.” Alfred’s letters to Georgia contain a vastness of feeling as he steadily confides his worries about the July offensive in Ypres and a marriage that--like so many of his pre-war hopes--is now in shambles.
The attraction is instant, the touch electric. Alfred begins to fall in love with this woman in the photographs, a woman with a restless ambition fused with desire. He wants to crawl inside her world and “let the same dark night soak into him.” In 1918, just after the war, Georgia finally accepts Alfred’s offer to come to New York to be looked after and to get the rest that he feels she needs. At first, Georgia is shocked to find herself in such circumstances, the willing mistress of a man who is still married and with a grown daughter. Practically tied up and owned by someone she can’t yet have, Georgia
lives in a studio apartment belonging to a man who has committed himself, his
passion, his finances, even his faith to her career: “A new life I’ve slipped
into that doesn’t yet quite feel like mine.”
Nonetheless, New York is the only place to be if Georgia wants her art to amount to anything. With other painters already remarking on her use of colors, her new mentor sets to work, steadily building her reputation as an artist who represents “a new type of art.” Georgia
becomes Alfred’s life, but as the aftershocks of the drama unfold, it will not be easy for Kitty, his daughter. From the onslaught of recriminations from his estranged, bitter wife, Emily, to Kitty’s grief and fury at her father
and the inevitable ugly divorce proceedings, Alfred and Georgia consummate their passionate relationship at his family home at Lake George. Here in the Stieglitz summer house filled with reflected light
from the sun behind the hills, Alfred tells his muse that art is combination of what’s “unseen all around us.” Georgia remains captivated by the intensity of Alfred’s dark-lashed passion and his refusal to curry favor with those he disagrees with.
Tripp beautifully unfolds two passionate lives built on an artistic illusion that is bedded down with dreams. As the years pass and Georgia grows in fame, she admits that Alfred is impossible, manipulative, demanding, and self-absorbed,
but at the same time “curiously transcendent.” She often marvels at what his photos
of a raindrop or a cloud can say about our flawed and impermanent selves. Still, this is really about how Alfred remakes Georgia, how he enables her to transform her artistic style into something born of the wind, the plains,
and the bone-blue sky, “out of the long winters that spread across the rolling, frozen land.”
Alfred’s infidelity eventually rears its head, as well as Georgia’s pointless entreaties that she wants a child by him. Tripp details what might exist between two people who obviously share a passion for art yet always seem so haunted by the recollection of what they fail to see. Alfred is, of course, aroused with the ardor of a lover for Georgia. His nude photos of her, the prints that grow more and more explicit and unrestrained, represent Alfred’s craven
sexual longings as he rakes his eyes over Georgia when she poses for him.
Tripp’s talent is that she can show us how this is an intimacy built on
inhibition and pure sensation where both master and muse are helpless against the push and pull of each other’s magnetism. As her story unfolds, we finally see that Georgia was never willing to put her art second to the man who tormented her and to his often difficult, desperate love born of a ruthless ecstasy from a mind that was singularly focused and free.
From the early years struggling to make it in Manhattan’s art world to her later years in New Mexico where Georgia lived a somewhat reclusive existence, the long marriage to Alfred and its inevitable loss to the panic of the stock market crash and the thrill of having your greatest paintings sold, Tripp beautifully welcomes us into a world in which she builds Georgia O’Keefe into one of the twentieth century’s greatest artistic symbols, a woman who could literally disappear at will into the world of color and shape.