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I’ve been told once or twice that my painting style is reminiscent of Georgia O’Keeffe’s. What an honor that is. I do feel a wonderful little connection with her by way of our home town: Sun Prairie, Wisconsin. It’s a lovely place just north of Madison and we were both born there, just a few years apart (wink). Other than being born in the same midwest town and drawn to painting from a young age we have a few other things in common, as well. Read on to find out more on our similarities, more about her incredible life and more on why I am honored to be compared to her.
In 1905 Georgia started studying art, and like me, she landed in Chicago. Instead of the University of Illinois at Chicago like I did, she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She would, unfortunately, run out of money for school a few years later and begin teaching after working as a commercial illustrator for two years. She continued to study over the summers and eventually came across the principles of Arthur Wesly Dow. This changed her view of art dramatically and she soon began experimenting with abstract art. She was bored with her school teachings of realism. I share with her the love of abstract art and its freedom. Rather than depicting things literally, you can express in different mediums how subjects make you feel. It becomes visceral rather than visual. It’s a beautiful way for others to experience art because there is a journey that happens. The abstract provides the ability to delve into the piece, lose yourself in it and explore what it means to you.
Georgia continued her abstract work and in 1916, ten of her charcoal drawings were exhibited at the 291 Gallery of Alfred Stieglitz (who later became her husband). By the 1920s, Georgia was widely considered one of the most successful artists of the time and was heralded for helping establish the American modernist movement. She had prominence as a female artist yet often rejected feminism and any view of her in that light. She simply wanted to be known as “an artist”, not a female artist. While I can absolutely respect her feelings, there is no denying the road she paved for female artists like myself and that should be celebrated. There is a beautiful femininity to her work that should also be celebrated.
Celebrated she was! She had over 20 solo art exhibitions and many group exhibitions as well. I am extraordinarily proud of my business Lyon Road Art yet there is something so special about a solo art show. I know when someone purchases one of my prints or products, and I get excited every time. But to see people’s faces while they look at pieces I’ve created and hear their comments is something else entirely. I may not make it into the Art Institute of Chicago or a fancy museum in New York like the Museum of Modern Art like Georgia, but her accomplishments are something to strive for. I applaud her for finding her own style and never wavering. My style of anatomy-inspired art is definitely a niche. It’s that very special point between art and science. While I find enjoyment in painting non-anatomy focused pieces as well, my love for anatomy (since I was a child) and showing its beauty always brings me right back to it.
In the end, regardless of all the accolades and accomplishments, Georgia’s life was far from perfect. She had suffered many illnesses over the years and struggled with depression at different points in her adult life. And after a long but troubled marriage to Alfred Stieglitz, he passed from a stroke. Later, she found happiness in the deserts of New Mexico but hardship struck again when she began to lose her vision in the early 1970s. Her perseverance and determination wouldn’t allow her to give up though. She found a new companion in John Bruce Hamilton who taught her to work with clay, encouraged her to keep painting, and helped her write her autobiography. She died at 98 years young and had her ashes spread around Ghost Ranch, her New Mexico home, and a favorite subject of many of her paintings. In 2016, one of her paintings sold for $44 million dollars, the highest amount ever paid for a painting by a woman.
Georgia O'Keeffe lived a long, sometimes tragic, but beautiful life. To many, she is one of the most influential artists of the 20th century and will be forever remembered as a fiercely independent, strong-willed, and incredibly talented woman in history. One can only dream of having success of this magnitude. However, we should never try to be someone else, I don’t want to have everything Georgia had. I know how blessed I am: my three beautiful children, an amazing husband who constantly supports me, a dream career, and so much more. I only wish to convey how this incredible woman from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin has served as such an inspiration for not just me, but countless others!
I have many heroes and inspirational figures in my life but Georgia is one of my favorites. As I’ve started teaching this past year, I’ve hoped more and more to be an inspirational figure for those in my classes. Both young and young at heart because it’s never too late to dive into your passion with both feet.