O’Keeffe and Me
I came across some old art, and made it new again. That was fun for me, looking at it with fresh eyes and different life experience behind me.
It also reminded me of “events that shape us”, and never-answered questions like whether our paths are determined by planning, grit and circumstance or if they’re a pre-ordained destiny. Conscious decisions vs. fate. And if it’s a little of both (which is more what I believe), and how they play with or against one another. Because looking back on a lifetime of making art, it’s clear to me that it was there all along, whether pushing up like weeds from concrete when I turned away or fought it, or blooming with passionate contentment when embraced. How it played itself out could have been different, and I’ve often wondered just how much impact different choices would have made ~ but life being both so mysterious and interconnected, who’s to say what other things would come into play when taking a different fork in the road that may have landed you right in the same place.
And what does all that have to do with O’Keeffee and me? It’s a bit of a twisty tale, a piece pulled from the “how I got here” files ~ which I suppose all started with a love for flowers.
In my early art years, I was very focused on honing my skills and basically marveling at the whole process of watching something come to life, through my hands, onto a blank piece of paper. It was “something I did”.
But when it came time for college and higher learning, I didn’t go to an art school. I had an aversion to the possibility of being surrounded by self-important people wearing berets thinking high-minded, overly-grand things about art ~ so I went to a wonderful liberal arts university with a champion football team and kids who studied everything from geology to literature to chemistry, pottery and music. I was already “immersed” in art and that seemed enough reason to study other things. Too much of one thing would have been, well, too much.
At the same time, a quiet rebellion thrived inside me against studying other artists. “Why?” you may ask. Mainly because I didn’t want to be influenced. I wanted my own style to emerge freely on its own. I didn’t want to copy. Second reason, I found art history incredibly boring. History was great, and art was great, but the two together caused much clock-watching, seat-squirming and suddenly heavy eyelids.
Given my ignorance of art history, you might then understand that I hadn’t a clue when during one of my early shows some of my work (like those shown here) was compared to the work of Georgia O’Keeffe.
Well of course I had to find out who this Georgia person was. I didn’t want to be like somebody else! Or worse, have people think I was trying to mimic.
It wasn’t hard to find examples of her work, and as it turned out I was pretty impressed. Flattered too, really. And I understood where they found the resemblance, unwitting as it was. Then I went on to read about her life, discovering that my O’Keeffian connection went beyond art to things like walking similar terrains (Lake George, the southwest and New York City) and even having my own version of a Stieglitz at the time.
My work is not very O’Keeffian these days, but it was a cool pairing back then, and that kind of over-sized styling never left my realm of creative thinking. And while I’m still not a full convert, it also marked the beginnings of my first real interest, outside of a classic admiration for Michelangelo, Norman Rockwell and Andrew Wyeth, in the subject of “art history”.
All because of a thing for flowers. Goes to show we never know what will lead us where, and the journey will happen regardless.