instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads

Georgia O'Keeffe's Shadow Self

From a 1924 Stieglitz photo of Ida (left) and Georgia O'Keeffe

 

It's disconcerting to see snapshots of Ida and Georgia O'Keeffe together in the exhibition and catalog, "Ida O'Keeffe: Escaping Georgia's Shadow," now at the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA for the summer.

 

The features of the sisters, born two years apart, are almost identical--heavy brows, fan-shaped eyes, chiseled lips, dark brown hair--but their expressions are not. Outgoing Ida often looks a little distracted in contrast to her older sister's intense focus. Even their hairstyles and clothing dramatically differ.

 

When this photo was taken, the sisters were in their mid-thirties. Georgia had been at Alfred Stieglitz's side for six years when he had fervently encouraged her as an artist and exhibited her work. Ida, in contrast, had worked as a nurse, turned to art later, then struggled to find time to paint and chances to exhibit. 

 

It was as if Ida was Georgia's shadow self: a sister with artistic talent but without the same opportunity. I left the exhibition feeling sad about Ida but very glad that Georgia had made the transition from Texas art teacher to prolific American painter.

Post a comment

Biography: Interviewing Artist Louise Nevelson

When I recently saw a production of "The Occupant," a play by Edward Albee performed by the Aglet Theatre Company, it was an experience of deja vu. After all, The Man in the drama interviews Louise Nevelson, which is exactly what I did in reality while working on my biography, Louise Nevelson: A Passionate Life.

 

Like The Man, a stand-in for Albee, I found it challenging to discover the truth about the artist. Indifferent to my search for facts, she was elusive about her turbulent and fascinating past, which began in Tsarist Russia and ended at the pinnacle of the New York art world.

 

So I examined what she erased or elaborated and took note of her unambiguous actions. I also looked at her sculptures, since she admitted she was working on her autobiography when she constructed Bride of the Black Moon from a rough plank and adorned it with a black crown. And when she created First Personage, a double figure suggesting highly fragile composure and barely restrained aggressiveness.

 

At times petulant or patient during our interviews, she was absorbed in her latest work-in-progress. After I turned off my tape recorder at the end of our last interview, she eagerly showed me what looked like another self-portrait--a black box illuminated from within filled with little fragments of black wood.

 

None of this was in the play, which was like more a conversation the playwright wished he had had with the artist, but never did.

 

 

Post a comment